Elisabeth Tova Bailey was stricken by a mysterious virus/bacteria that, in an astonishingly short time, rendered her practically immobile for years. She was eventually diagnosed with mitochondrial disease, but her progress was slow and often thwarted. She wasn’t able to live in her own home as she became dependent on caregivers and friends. One such friend, perhaps unknowingly, changed the course of her life with a small gift. She bright Bailey a potted violet and on impulse included a wild snail. The end result was The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, a beautiful little book which is both an insightful patient memoir and a gem of natural history.
It is difficult to imagine an active life suddenly and utterly restricted to stillness. Kind friends visited but she was exhausted by their activity and they would eventually be frustrated by her inactivity. Although she did not initially see the value of the snail, she came to appreciate its slowness and developed a fellow feeling with this creature who also been plucked out of its natural environment and been forced to live a life restricted both geographically and socially. The snail matched her pace and mirrored her life. As she grew more fascinated by this often overlooked creature, she came to appreciate its gifts of slowness, observation and contemplation.
As Bailey’s health improved she was able to study the texts of biologists, naturalists and poets who have studied the snail before her. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating, while lyrical and poetical, is also a wealth of information about this gastropod including its evolution, physiology, digestive habits and reproductive life. Bailey reflects that she might have been the first person to observe a snail tending to its eggs. When her health improved to the point of allowing her to return to her home, her snail was also returned back to wild.
Florence Nightingale recognized the positive effect that pets can have on the ill. In Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas, a woman, whose life is sidetracked by her brain injured husband, gathers dogs about her to help her cope with her loss. “When Abigail Thomas husband, Rich, was hit by a car, his skull was shattered, his brain severely damaged. Subject to rages, terrors, and hallucinations and with no memory of what he did the hour, the day, the year before he was sent to live in a nursing facility that specializes in treating traumatic brain injuries. This tragedy is the ground on which Abigail had to build a new life. How she built that life is a story of great courage and change, of moving to a small country town, of a new family composed of three dogs, knitting, and friendship, of facing down guilt and discovering gratitude. It is also about her relationship with Rich, a man who lived in the eternal present, and the eerie poetry of his often uncanny perceptions. Hailed by Stephen King as “the best memoir I have ever read,” this wise, plainspoken, beautiful book enacts the truth Abigail has discovered since the accident: You might not find meaning in disaster, but you might, with effort, make something useful of it.” – publisher
If you enjoy the elegance of science writing, you might also consider The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins. “The watchmaker belongs to the eighteenth-century theologian William Paley, who argued that just as a watch is too complicated and functional to have sprung into existence by accident, so too must all living things, with their far greater complexity, be purposefully designed. Charles Darwin’s brilliant discovery challenged the creationist arguments; but only Richard Dawkins could have written this elegant riposte. Natural selection—the unconscious, automatic, blind, yet essentially nonrandom process Darwin discovered—is the blind watchmaker in nature.” – publisher