This remarkable memoir/natural history chronicles the author's observation of a snail that occupies the flower pot at her bedside during a long immobilization due to chronic fatigue syndrome.  For months of relative isolation, she observes the habits of the snail and begins to research the lives, habits, species, and idiosyncrasies of snails by way of getting to know this one in greater specificity.  As she puts it, "When the body is rendered useless, the mind still runs like a bloodhound...," (p. 5) and her mind certainly does.  Peering into poetry and story as well as biology, she discovers both facts and lore about the lives of snails to complement her intimate curiosity about the life of this snail.  Along the way, and very much by the way, she reflects on the nature of her own complex illness, the likely brevity of life she has now to expect, and how to learn from another species how to live in time differently. 


Lively, quirky, unapologetic toward readers who might not at the outset share her fascination with the humble mollusk and its slime production, the writer paces her story in such a way as to draw readers into a slow, meditative, willing look at both human and animal nature.  Illness narrative is just one dimension of this story, but it remains in the background as the author turns her attention outward toward a humble creature of the natural world. The story of the snail is not reduced to parable or allegory, though it certainly points in those directions. Bailey’s website includes reader responses from all quarters testifying to the rich appeal of a book that speaks to a surprising variety of moments in people’s lives and quiets them into amused—or bemused—reflection on things they might otherwise hasten past.


Winner of the 2011 John Burroughs Medal Award for Distinguished Natural History, a 2010 National Outdoor Book Award in Natural History Literature, and a Gold Award from Foreward Book of the Year - Memoir.


Algonquin Books

Place Published

New York



Page Count