The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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August 5, 2013

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

I haven't kept time down to the second -- not like the three gentlemen with synchronized stopwatches who were on hand when Nellie Bly completed her famous trip -- but it's possible that Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland could have raced around the world twice in the time it look me to finish this book.  This is not the book's fault ... I enjoyed every minute I spent with it, and with these two women.  It's just that I thought (and still think) this was a perfect audiobook to keep me company on long walks through the neighborhood, and then I promised myself that I would only listen to it while I was walking, and now you know how little walking I've been doing.:)

Nellie Bly had already made a name for herself as a crusading reporter when she convinced her editors at a New York newspaper that she could travel around the world faster than Phileas Fogg, the hero of Jules Verne's novel Around the World in Eighty Days. She left Hoboken, New Jersey on  November 14, 1889, 'a young woman in a plaid coat and cap, neither tall, nor short dark not fair, not quite pretty enough to turn a head; the sort of woman who could, if necessary, lose herself in a crowd,' and traveled east, by steamship, train and ferry, through England, France, Italy, Egypt, Yemen, Ceylon, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, San Francisco, Chicago, and home again. She prided herself on traveling with one bag so she won't be delayed by lost luggage {there's a funny bit later in the book where a railroad company tells its passengers that they are limited to one carry-on}, and insists that she will travel by regular means, not making any special arrangements to get home faster. But Bly did not know until well into her trip that on 12 hours notice, a rival newspaper had sent one of its female reporters, 'matinee-girl gorgeous' Elizabeth Bisland, 'an aesthete and an intellectual,' (and traveling with a lot more luggage) to race against her, starting off in the opposite direction.

Bly and Bisland are very interesting women, especially Bisland, maybe because she's less well known, and the story of their race, and I think especially, the story {moving and little horrifying} of what happens to each of them when it's over, is riveting. But there's a lot more in this book -- relations between countries,  odd bits of history and anthropology, technological advances in ships and trains, travel writing, food, newspaper rivalries, opportunities for women journalists, advertising and promotion, etc. etc. I think this book is a perfect example of why I've been more and more drawn to reading history in the last couple of years.  Like the biographers I like best, Matthew Goodman blends facts and descriptions and stories together so well, and this is also a very good book to listen to.  I was very glad to see that Lisa enjoyed it too, and you can read her description and thoughts about it here.


Lisa said...

Did the audio book come with a map inside the cover? I know I'd have been stopping it quite a bit to look at the map - or to find one. Aren't you tempted to look for the Nellie Bly board game? I notice that the author mentioned he played many games of this with his children :) Thanks again for letting me know about this book!

Audrey said...

I am tempted! And about halfway through listening to the book I took a cue from our friend JoAnn and borrowed the book from the library, so I could look for pictures...but I was happy to find the map as well!

JoAnn said...

Your experience with the audiobook makes me laugh! There have been a couple of books I've designated as 'for walking only' ... one I breezed through in just over a week on the treadmill, but never did finish the other.

Checking out a print edition, especially for nonfiction, really helps. Maps, photos, family trees, charts... I love that stuff!

This books sounds like a winner. I'm off to listen to a sample at audible.

Thank you for visiting!

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