Friday, July 08, 2011

Book Review: The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

The most soothing book I’ve ever read. It moves at a snail’s pace. Small in size, lyrical in language, precise in observation, delicate in articulation.

The author, Elizabeth Tova Bailey, is bedridden due to a mysterious auto-immune disease. A friend bringers her a flowerpot containing a wild violet from the nearby woods, and along with the plant, a snail. Bailey watches the snail and becomes fascinated by its journeys. Up and down the pot to sip the water that collects in the saucer. She figures out what to feed it (in the most dramatic moments of the book, the snail gluts on cornmeal and almost dies) and eventually moves it to a terrarium (a refurbished aquarium) where it settles in a lays eggs. The snail is mostly silent, although in the night, Bailey sometimes hears the tiny rasping sound of it eating. Bailey begins reading about snails and as she expands her knowledge of her quiet companion, her world begins to expand. By the end of the book she has recovered enough to move home and the snail and all 138 baby snails have been released in the woods from which the snail came.

But the true magic of this book is not that the snail healed the woman or that the woman recovered, but rather that loving attention to the smallest creature can open up a world of marvels. I felt refreshed after reading this book (which I read at an un-snail-like pace straight through in two hours) and also as if life had simultaneously slowed down and expanded.

Favorite Quote:

Inches from my bed and from each other stood the terrarium and a clock. While life in the terrarium flourished, time ticked away its seconds. But the relationship between time and the snail confused me. The snail would make its way through the terrarium while the hand of the clock barely moved—so I often thought the snail traveled faster than time. Then, absorbed in snail watching, I‘d find that time had flown by, unnoticed.

If you would like to hear a wild snail eating, Elizabeth Tova Bailey published a mp3 recording done by Lang Elliott and Marla Coppolino at her web site.

You can also watch a slide slow which includes video of the snail in the terrarium.

I also published this review at Goodreads and on my web site.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

My Happiness Project

I’m in the middle of reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. In fact, I’m in July. I thought the book sounded annoying: too chipper, too cheerful, too prescriptive. And at times, it can be all of those things. But, for the most part, I find it charming, informative, inspiring.

Rubin notice one day that although she was reasonably happy with her life—and her husband, her two young daughters, her work as a writer—she always had a nagging feeling she should be happier. So she created the Happiness Project. She assigned themes to each month (of course, this made me happy, because this is what I did in My Year in Flowers book). Her twelve themes for the year were:

January: Vitality
February: Marriage
March: Work
April: Parenthood
May: Leisure
June: Friendship
July: Money
August: Eternity
September: Books
October: Mindfulness
November: Attitude
December Happiness

She spent each month reading about the topic and applying certain principles she distilled from her reading to her own life, for example, during the month of July (Money) she worked with these concepts: Indulge in a Modest Splurge, Buy Needful Things, Spend Out, and Give Something Up.

Naturally I was enchanted by this idea. I love putting things in boxes (hence my fascination with planners) and, in fact, I was contemplating posting a monthly theme on my web site. So I decided to create my own Happiness Project and these are the themes I chose (carefully chosen to be seasonal, naturally):

January: Serenity
February: Relationship
March: Health
April: Clarity
May: Beauty
June: Play
July: Creativity
August: Spaciousness
September: Mystery
October: Work
November: Legacy
December: Gift-Giving

I’m still tinkering with these. I stole some from Rubin. Others are my theme words for 2011. I’m already sad I missed some (Play!) but they’ll come around again next year (my Happiness Year apparently starts in July).

Right now I’m having a great time figuring out what to do during the month of Creativity. My principles so far are Borrow Creativity (a trip to a museum or attending a concert). Go on an Artist Date (I’m planning a trip to my local art supply store, perhaps a perfume store too!). Try Something New: I’m thinking of trying a different artistic medium each week, but am having a hard time figuring out what besides my two favorites (outside of writing): photography and collage. Attend Art Events: Luckily I am already attending the opening of the Long Shot photo exhibit at Photo Center Northwest on July 23 (I’ll have a photo in the exhibit! As will everyone who participated). I also found some great events sponsored by the Henry Art Gallery: a workshop on art books (maybe I’ll be inspired to make one) and a talk on the future of book stores by one of the people who is reshaping publishing, Matthew Stadler.

My assignment is already reshaping the way I approach my life. I spent a couple of happy hours this morning looking at various visual artist’s sites and found all sorts of cool projects that parallel my own, like the Long Walk a project by artist Susan Robb and this article on Hamish Fulton who makes art resulting from the experience of individual walks, which also led me to an article on How To Get Lost in a City, by about Amira Hanafi, who produces art from walks she takes. I have no idea what a situationist derive is but I think I should learn. (Actually I just found out by visiting Wikipedia: it's a drifting, unplanned walk taken to absorb the ambiance of the city and go in the direction of what appeals.)

Come to think of it, this will be my fourth art form: a walk. Which is really at the heart of My Year in Flowers book so it all comes around in a neat circle, like the seasons.

All the photos are mine. Took the shadow on the sidewalk during the Long Shot (a 24 hours fund-raising event sponsored by Photo Center Northwest) and I took the night photo one evening coming home on the bus when I was bored because I didn't have a book to read.