Science Book a Day Interviews Elisabeth Tova Bailey

_FINALScreen_Saver_ETB_5_copyA few days ago we featured The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating: A True Story by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. She was kind enough to answer 5 questions about her book via email.

Elisabeth’s homepage:

#1 – Your  book has been out since 2010, has won awards and been translated into six languages. How do you feel about the reception the book has had?
I am delighted that The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is gliding slowly around the world. It seems in keeping with how snail species found themselves a home on all the continents. I am happy that the book is doing well in Europe and Asia and was surprised, but equally pleased that it took off at a faster-than-snail pace in Australia, which tends toward desert—not a particularly snail-like climate. I think it has glided along so well because of its unusual interdisciplinary approach, an integration of a personal interspecies story with natural history, medical humanities, and literature.

#2 – What do you think people could learn from observing animals around us as closely as you observed your snail?
The most important thing we learn from observing animals—and I include humans in the definition of animal—is how intelligent, creative, complex, and amazing any life can be, regardless of species and size. A day in the life of any animal is fascinating, full of adventures, pursuits, and interactions with kin and often with other species as well. Every species has unique traits and every individual within a species has a unique personality. We live in a very human-centric world, if we observed nonhuman animals more, I think respect for other species would improve. Nonhuman animals know all kinds of things that human animals don’t know, so observations are a good way to expand our knowledge. There is much to learn from biomimicry, as each species has developed unique ways to survive and humans can learn from other species and then develop similar technologies. Just as multi-cultural awareness expands our understanding of how to live, so multi-speciesawareness can do the same. Wikipedia definition of biomimicry: imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems

#3 – You wrote about your observations about the snail while you were ill. Did you go back to rewrite-edit what you had written? Was the process of writing this book different from things you had previously written?
I wrote down some notes of my snail observations at the time and when you live with an animal daily, for a year, you get to know its habits very well, so much was also stored in my memory. Later, I began the scientific research and then combined that research with my observations. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating was my first book, I had previously published essays and short stories. The process of writing the book was quite engaging. I was seduced by the snail science—it was just so interesting! I loved looking for really intriguing bits to weave into the story. As I stuffed the science into my observations, I couldn’t help but consider the similarities and differences between gastropod and Homo sapiens and that allowed me to deepen the story and expand my reflections on both the snail and human worlds. It was particularly wonderful to read the writings of the Victorian field scientists, Charles Darwin and his colleagues, and to use some choice quotes from that time period.

#4 – What are you working on at the moment?
This past year has involved numerous book-related projects. The Wild Snail book has moved farther into the medical field, where it has been reviewed by medical professionals in the U.S. and Canada as well as in Australian Family Physician. The book is being adopted into school curricula around the world, both at the primary and secondary levels (middle and high schools and university level as well) and it is also being used in medical colleges, where medical humanities literature is now part of physician training. I’ve enjoyed videoconferencing into schools. I love the more serious questions that students bring to their readings and their reflections on the story. The teachers I work with come up with very creative projects related to the book’s interdisciplinary directions. Teachers had students write essays and poems about the book, make terrariums, and send them out to do some field observations of their own family members and other species. College students considered the book in terms of its story about understanding nonhuman existence as well as how to find meaning in life during challenging circumstances.

#5 – To me, your story seems wonderfully meditative and full of the richness of stillness. I think it would make a wonderful film. Has anyone approached you about making it into a film?
 There were a few feature-length film queries early on, but nothing really came of them. However, it’s interesting that you happened to ask about a film. I actually raised some nonprofit funding last year to work on a film short adapted from the book and that project is now underway, though we are looking for a bit more funding in order to complete the project. I felt that a film short could be useful, in conjunction with the book, for the educational outreaches noted in question #4. The film short will be quite different than what would happen in a feature-length film, but it has been a fun project! We expect to complete the project in 2014.

Thanks so much for featuring the Wild Snail book!

With all best wishes, Elisabeth

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