Books and Talks

Slugger Gordon Snails it Again

Seattle’s chronicler of creeping critters takes a quick spin in the very slow lane.

December 30, 2010

Illustration by Karen Luke Fildes.

The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane by David G. Gordon. Sasquatch Books, $14.95.

Seattle science writer David G. Gordon has made a career of celebrating squishy and crunchy critters most folks only notice when they eat, squash, or try to exterminate them—from oysters and geoducks to spiders, cockroaches, and edible insects. This is a man who’s been invited to Singapore to give a grub-grilling demonstration. Gordon’s latest follows the slimy trail blazed by his popular Field Guide to the Slug. It’s partly a reprise, revisiting the shell-less stars of that trim volume. But Gordon extends his malacological horizons (you try saying that) to shelled snails, both natives and the more familiar European species that were imported for eating and stayed to eat our gardens.

Because they ravage fewer plantings and have less yuck appeal than slugs, snails haven’t also become Northwest icons. Gordon tries to sex them up here, but theirs is a slow crawl to glory. A quarter of The Secret World is field guide, a “Gastropod Gallery” of species. Its usefulness suffers, however, from limited illustrations—ink sketches by Gordon’s wife, Karen Luke Fildes, none in color. A black-and-white banana slug is like a silent fanfare.

Still, where but in this genial miscellany will you learn that…
• Snails and slugs travel by surfing on their own slime.
• 18th-century pharmacists treated consumption with snail water, whose ingredients also included earthworms and wormwood.
• South Korean researchers recently discovered a tumor-suppressing compound in East African land snails.

Stop this man before he cooks again?

Taildropper slugs really do; they sacrifice their tails to escape predators.
• Likewise the jumping slugs, which writhe till they hop.
• UC-Santa Cruz students reportedly voted 15-to-1to make their mascot the banana slug rather than sea lion.
• A dash of yeast makes beer traps even more irresistible to slugs.

I’m only surprised Gordon didn’t include more recipes, or note my favorite bit of local malacology: that early German and Italian immigrants used slugs as escargot substitutes (in garlic butter, of course). I’ve been working up the nerve to try that. Perhaps the Invertebrate Chef has another cookbook in the works?

David G. Gordon will read from The Secret World of Snails at
Elliott Bay Book Company, Sat, Jan 8, 2pm
Village Books, Fairhaven/Bellingham, Sun, Jan 23, noon
PNW Flower & Garden Show, Seattle, Sun, Feb 27, 2pm
Sky Nursery. Shoreline, Sat, March 5, 11am
Third Place Books, Lake Forest Park, Thurs, March 10, 7pm

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