My favourite books of 2013

Time Being The Orenda Cinnamon and Gunpowder

This has been an interesting year in books for a number of reasons, from the changing face of the landscape itself (self-publishing, big publishing house mergers) to major nominations and award wins for Canadian authors, to my own reading habits. I included more non-fiction in my reading list this year, and for the first time began listening to audiobooks. I read 64 books total (not including manuscripts for work, of course! That would push the number considerably higher).

This year I consumed 15 audiobooks (two of which, A Tale for the Time Being and Night Film, I enjoyed in combination with their book version, because they both included visual material that enriched their stories), three short story collections, three non-fiction titles, five mysteries, seventeen historical fiction books, two YA, and ten sci-fi/fantasy/horror genre. I’ve read books set in eighteen different countries, and because of discussions on diversity in publishing at BookCampTO 2013, I’ve become more conscious this year of how many books I read by people who don’t look like me. (For the record, this year I read exactly the same number of books by women as I did by men, without any forethought, and fourteen books featuring main characters and/or written by authors of colour. That second number could certainly be higher.)

As for my blog, the number of views in 2013 is more than double that of 2012, I included more author interviews, ran my first contest, and participated in a few blog tours. I also learned that I’m really bad at keeping up readalong posts, and the next one I attempt, if I do one, I’ll write in its entirety before starting to post! I want thank everyone who has stopped by to read, and who commented or tweeted or emailed. Thanks for the conversation! I look forward to a bigger and better 2014.

And now the fun part: my list of my favourite-favourite books of everything I read in 2013! (You can check out 2012’s list here.)

In chronological reading order, my favourites of 2013 are:

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“A historian is a kind of traveller”: an interview with Eighty Days’ Matthew Goodman

Eighty Days

Matthew Goodman is a narrative historian. In his latest book, Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World, he takes readers into the late 19th century to follow two remarkable female journalists as they race against time—and each other—to complete the fastest journey around the globe ever undertaken. Along the way they see the world in new and different ways, and we get to glimpse what life, colonialism, and the dawning of a newly globalizing but still highly stratified world. He was kind of enough to sit down with me to discuss this superb book.

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to discuss your new book with me. It’s a fantastic read. There’s an immediacy to it that I really appreciated. So some basics. What led you to this project?

I’m very interested in narrative history, which is really the kind of writing I see myself doingtelling a true story, a historical story, and using some of the devices that are usually associated with fiction. I like the fact that it’s possible for a reader to pick up the book and flip to any given page and perhaps not even know if they were reading a history book or a novel. So I was looking around, I had done a book like that before and I was looking around for another topic to do, and I sort of knew who Nelly Bly was, but I wasn’t exactly sure who she was. I knew she was a journalist. I live in Brooklyn, in New York, and there used to be a Nellie Bly amusement park in New York, so I know her as the namesake of this amusement park. But I didn’t know much else about her.

I saw a reference to her and I investigated it. I knew I wanted to write about a female main character. It turned out that she was indeed a journalist, but not just any journalistthis really amazing journalist. A female journalist unlike any that New York had ever seen before. This was a time when most women were relegated to writing for the Women’s Page, writing about recipes and gossip and shopping and so forth. Nellie Bly was an undercover investigative reporter for the most widely read newspaper in New York who was willing to get herself committed to an insane asylum, to expose the conditions in the Blackwell Island Insane Asylum. It was really courageous, she didn’t know if she was going to get back out. It took all of Pulitzer’s doing to get her back out. So I was thrilled to discover her.

And then I discovered that in the fall of 1889 she undertook her most audacious adventure yet, which was to try to go around the world faster than anybody had ever done it before, to try to beat in real life the fictional mark of 80 days that Jules Verne had set. I just immediately thought “That’s the book!” I’m thinking Nellie Bly in Hong Kong! Nellie Bly on the Suez Canal! Then I discovered that Nellie Bly wasn’t only racing against the calendar or against a fictional character but that in fact there was this real life, rival female journalist who was racing in the other direction to beat Nellie Bly! I was just captivated by that, the idea of these two young female journalists racing each other around the world, one going east, one going west.

Nellie Bly and Eliabeth Bisland. Image originally appeared in Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, reproduced in Eight Days, by Matthew Goodman.
Nellie Bly and Eliabeth Bisland. Image originally appeared in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, reproduced in Eight Days, by Matthew Goodman.

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