A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
This is a gem of a book. By that I mean it sparkles, has depth and great value. It is a splendid mixture of natural history, philosophy, literature and poetry, all conveyed in a deeply personal way by the author. No matter what I write, I won’t be able to do it justice.
Expanded from an essay, this little book has its roots in the author becoming very ill on her way home from Europe. Back in America, she is hospitalized with severe symptoms that doctors cannot find the causes of. Eventually, they figure out it’s a rare auto-immune disease that leaves her so weak she can’t even sit up. After a number of relapses, she begins to recuperate, a process that takes many months. A friend brings her a woodland snail found on a hike, which ends up in a terrarium on a stand by her bed. This creature gives her focus and companionship over the long, fitful period of trying to stabilize her health.
Never named or anthropomorphized, the snail proves a fascinating subject. As the author watches the snail eat portobello mushrooms & egg shells, she muses on the life cycle, slime variations and the unusual mating habits of the many kinds of gastropods. In her wonder at nature’s minutae, her writing reminded me of Anne Dillard’s in Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek, one of my favorite books.
Quite naturally, she considers her own mortality and the sociological and personal effects of sickness. It’s a realistic account of living with a chronic illness, yet without self-pity or melodrama. A strong philosophical undercurrent runs through the narrative, but especially on this topic. “Those of us with illnesses are the holders of the silent fears of those with good health.”
Throughout the entire book are quotes and snippets of poetry, from Classical Literature to modern mystery stories. Like raisins in scones, they add a richness to an already wonderful treat. I had no idea snails had been written of so widely or in so many different ways. And the detailed pencil drawings by Kathy Bray provides a nice counterpoint to all of the words.
From the whimsical title to the last hopeful page, this is a thought provoking little volume. Do not let the small size fool you; like the snail, there are worlds beyond imagining within.
Algonquin books of Chapel Hill 2010 190 pp. ISBN 978-1-56512-606-0
Jackie has drawn snails, but none so pleasing as the ones in this book.