2012 nonfiction winner

Elisabeth Tova Bailey | The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

Painting of authorAbout the author
Elisabeth Tova Bailey's interdisciplinary creative nonfiction memoir, The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, has found a general international readership with special niches in the medical humanities and natural history fields. Bailey received the 2011 John Burroughs Medal Award for Distinguished Natural History, the 2010 Foreword Book of the Year Gold Award for autobiography/memoir, and a 2010 National Outdoor Book Award in Natural History Literature. The Wild Snail book was on numerous top lists for 2010. Bailey has presented on the topic of "Biophilia and the Patient Environment and Palliative Care" at the international medical humanities conference The Examined Life at the University of Iowa's Carver College of Medicine. Her essays and short stories have been published in The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, The Missouri Review, Northwest Review, and the Sycamore Review. Bailey lives in Maine.

About the book

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is the inspiring and intimate story of Bailey's uncommon encounter with a Neohelix albolabris—a common forest snail. While an illness keeps her bedridden, Bailey watches as the snail takes up residence on her nightstand. Through year-long observations of her bedside companion, she comes to a greater understanding of the mysteries of interspecies relationships and her own human place in the natural world. Intrigued by the snail's astounding abilities, Bailey is an astute and amused observer of the life of this overlooked small animal. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a remarkable journey of survival and resilience, showing us how a small part of the natural world illuminates our own human existence.

Critics / Reviews
"Brilliant."  — The New York Review of Books

"A gem"  — Morning Edition with Susan Stamberg, "Best Books of 2010"

"How interesting can a snail be? Entirely captivating, as it turns out. [Bailey] is a marvelous writer, and the marriage of science and poetic mysticism that characterizes this small volume is magical.”  — Star Tribune

"An exquisite meditation on the restorative connection between nature and humans. . . . the writing is pristine and clear, with sentences of stunning lyrical beauty . . . Bailey’s slim book is as richly layered as the soil she lays down in the snail’s terrarium: loamy, potent, and regenerative."  — Huffington Post

"What starts as an improbable story becomes an irresistible one. . . this elegant little gem is a triumph."  — Maine Sunday Telegram/ Portland Press Herald

“[Bailey] honors the gastropod with a poetic history of its short, astonishing life.”  — MORE Magazine

"A page-turner with all the draw of a detective story and all the heart of a romance . . . "  — Inquiring Mind

"I read [Bailey’s] acount in one sitting, transfixed . . . [It's a] masterpiece.”  — The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine

Richly packed with human experience, scientific information, clinical observation and poetic insight this book will bring joy, understanding, and considerable scholarship to any reader.”  — The Pharos, the journal of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society

"Scientists and literary critics on both sides of the Atlantic are enraptured by [Bailey’s] memoir . . . to read [this book] is to experience . . . stepping into an altogether more enchanted realm . . . [Bailey] closes the half-billion year evolutionary gap between snail and human with rare precision and humor . . ."  — Courier Mail, Australia