When I heard about about Matthew Goodman's Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World I knew I wanted to read it. Luckily for me the lovely people at Random House of Canada sent me a review copy so I could get my hands on it quickly. It's taken me almost as many days as their trip to finish the book. It didn't take that long because of the book but rather because while Bly and Bisland were racing around the world I was riding long with them on my stationary bike.
We had bought a new stationary bike right before I received the book. I hate the stationary bike. I like the new one better than our old one but that's not exactly saying a lot. I work from home, I can't outside in the winter (I can't breathe) and so, stationary bike it was. The first few times I got on our new bike I could stop looking at the clock and wondering it was really too soon to stop (it always was). One day I realized that if I propped the book up *just so* and used the book mark that Darcie sent me I could read and exercise at the same time.
This was win/win. February was a busy month and March wasn't much better. This way I was getting exercise and reading time at the same time. The book covered up the timer and I discovered that I really didn't mind being on the bike for longer periods of time as long as I had something entertaining to distract me.
And Eighty Days certainly was entertaining. Nellie Bly was a classic newspaperwoman. She didn't just break the mould, she created a new one. Bly's main thing was investigative journalism and she was good at it. Her big break came with her expose of the Women's Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell's Island she did for the New York World. She had herself admitted to the asylum so that she could write about the conditions there while knowing that no one really knew how they'd get her out. It took 10 days for her to be released and her resulting story resulted in an official investigation into the conditions at the asylum and brought Bly some measure of fame.
Bly put that fame to good use. She continued to pitch stories to her editors that other female reporters like would not have been able to. Her big proposal was a solo trip around the world, using only means of transportation available to all travellers, and to do it in less than the 80 days that the fictional character Phileas Fogg took in Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. Her editors didn't jump on it right away but she was patient. It took a year but she was finally given approval to prepare for the trip. The New York World only gave her two days to get everything in order and then she was off.
But she wouldn't be the only woman that set off on a trip around the world on November 14, 1889. When the New York World's competitors at Cosmopolitan found out that Nellie Bly had embarked on a journey around the world they called their Elizabeth Bisland into the office and informed her that she had only a few hours to get her affairs in order. She would leave that evening only heading west rather than east. It was thought that the western passage would be faster and she was already starting six hours behind. Her trip was planned so last minute that Nellie Bly wouldn't even know there was another woman in the race until she reached the other side of the world.
The two women were very different. While Bly preferred investigative journalism, Bisland mostly covered the literary scene. This was not a trip she ever dreamed of or enjoyed starting. Yet Bisland, the only one in the race who knew she was racing more than just a character in a book, seemed to enjoy it more. Bly was always concerned with getting to the next port and always had her eye on the final destination. When she had days spent in port she didn't seek out stories, but rather grew anxious over the delays. She enjoyed little of what she saw. Bisland, on the other hand, sought out pleasure and friendships. She shopped and went sightseeing. Japan became one of her favourite places in the world and she would visit both it and China again later in life. Though it must be said that Bly showed up with the most "interesting" souvenir of the trip. She bought herself a pet monkey a century before Michael Jackson thought it was would be cool to have a chimpanzee as a pet. (Did I just date myself? Maybe I should say more than a century before Justin Bieber had a pet monkey?)
Is it a spoiler to tell you who made it to the finish line first? Since it's historical record -- and easily available on Wikipedia -- it's probably not and yet I don't think I will. Part of the reading of any book, whether it's fiction or not, is in discovery.Bly and Bisland made plenty of discoveries on their trip and they are well worth reading.
Disclosure: I received a review copy of Eigthy Days from Random House of Canada. All opinions expressed are my own.