Swimming Studies is a brilliantly original, meditative memoir that explores the worlds of competitive and recreational swimming. From her training for the Olympic trials as a teenager to enjoying pools and beaches around the world as an adult, Leanne Shapton offers a fascinating glimpse into the private, often solitary, realm of swimming. Her spare and elegant writing reveals an intimate narrative of suburban adolescence, spent underwater in a discipline that continues to inspire Shapton’s work as an artist and author. Her illustrations throughout the book offer an intuitive perspective on the landscapes and imagery of the sport. Shapton’s emphasis is on the smaller moments of athletic pursuit rather than its triumphs. For the accomplished athlete, aspiring amateur, or habitual practicer, this remarkable work of written and visual sketches propels the reader through a beautifully personal and universally appealing exercise in reflection.
About Leanne Shapton
Leanne Shapton is an illustrator and author of several books, including Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris. She is also the cofounder of J&L Books, a nonprofit publisher of art and photography books.
Through a series of vignettes, paintings and photographs that often have no sequential relationship to each other, Shapton (The Native Trees of Canada, 2010, etc.) depicts her intense relationship to all aspects of swimming: pools, water, races and even bathing suits. The author trained competitively throughout her adolescence, yet however much she loved racing, “the idea of fastest, of number one, of the Olympics, didn’t motivate me.” In 1988 and again in 1992, she qualified for the Olympic trials but never went further. Soon afterward, Shapton gave up competition, but she never quite ended her relationship to swimming. Almost 20 years later, she writes, “I dream about swimming at least three nights a week.” Her recollections are equally saturated with stories that somehow involve the act of swimming. When she speaks of her family, it is less in terms of who they are as individuals and more in context of how they were involved in her life as a competitive swimmer. When she describes her adult life—which she often reveals in disconnected fragments—it is in ways that sometimes seem totally random. If she remembers the day before her wedding, for example, it is because she couldn’t find a bathing suit to wear in her hotel pool. Her watery obsession also defines her view of her chosen profession, art. At one point, Shapton recalls a documentary about Olympian Michael Phelps and draws the parallel that art, like great athleticism, is as “serene in aspect” as it is “incomprehensible.” – Kirkus Reviews
It’s Lonely and Clammy, Yet a Shaper of Dreams
The New York Times Book Review – July 16, 2012 (Excerpt)
Tennis is the loneliest sport, Andre Agassi has said. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, despite the persuasiveness of Alan Sillitoe’s novella “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner.” I wonder also if Mr. Agassi has reckoned with the solitude of competitive swimming.
The talented illustrator Leanne Shapton, in her pointillistic and quietly profound new memoir, “Swimming Studies,” recalls how, in 1988 and 1992, specializing in the breaststroke, she made it as far the Canadian Olympic trials. Ms. Shapton writes as confidently as she draws, and memorably conjures swimming’s intense, primordial and isolating pleasures.
She describes the sensation of being underwater and alone at a meet, the “loud then quiet, loud then quiet” of one’s head rising above the waterline, how “a chorus of warbled pops and splashings bursts against the sides” of your cap. Between strokes, she says, “each swimmer can catch the deep bass of the announcer” resonating through the chlorinated deep.
She notes how swimmers are made to feel not merely solitary but quite small. “Coaches stand above you, over you,” she writes. “You look up to them, are vulnerable, naked and wet in front of them. Coaches see you weak, they weaken you, they have your trust, you do what they say.”
Ms. Shapton is the author and illustrator of several previous books; she is also the former art director of The New York Times’s Op-Ed page. With “Swimming Studies” she’s composed a volume that is less a proper memoir than a collection of flickering sketches. It leaps from her training for the Olympic trials and becomes a treatise on swimming and pools in general. It’s a sport that lingers in her mind and in her muscles. [Read the full article...]
Review: ‘Swimming Studies’ and a life shaped by the pool
The Chicago Tribune Book Review – July 29, 2012 (Excerpt)
Leanne Shapton did not go to the Olympics, she tells us on the first page of “Swimming Studies” — but she did get to the Olympic trials. She was, according to her finish there, the eighth-fastest breaststroker in Canada in 1988, but only the top two went to the Olympics.
Although she’s modest about it, that’s a phenomenal achievement. In this essayistic, illustrated, meditative memoir, Shapton explores swimming from many dimensions: its pools and its suits, what it meant to her then and what it means now. She’s in her late 30s, and swimming remains for her a thing of longing and belonging.
“When I was twelve a coach remarked I had a ‘feel’ for the water,” she writes. “I still do. It’s a knowledge of water space, being able to sense exactly where my body is and what it’s affecting, an animal empathy for contact with an element.… When I’m dry I bump into things, stub toes, miss stairs.”
Shapton has spent plenty of time on land, where her accomplishments have also piled up. She’s been an art director at the New York Times and is an accomplished illustrator who has designed book covers and textile prints. She wrote 2009 novel “Important Artifacts and Personal Property From the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry,” which was written in the form of a high-end auction catalog and, despite that unusual format, was optioned by Brad Pitt. It looks like Shapton can succeed at whatever she puts her mind to; swimming is where that started. [Read the full article...]
‘Swimming Studies’ by Leanne Shapton
The Washington Post Book Review – February 15, 2013 (Excerpt)
How do you give voice to a silent, often solitary pursuit? Like anyone else who has ever loved to swim, you understand what it’s like to be drawn to water. And you know how difficult it is to put that pull into words. It’s not enough to describe the physical enjoyment that swimming gives you, nor is it sufficient to explain the comforting details of a swimmer’s routine. A deep-seated love of swimming is not learned: It’s something primal. It’s with you for life.
Through immaculate observation and evocative recollection, Leanne Shapton’s autobiographical “Swimming Studies” achieves the seemingly impossible. In a series of sharp snapshots of life as a competitive swimmer and beyond, she has managed to find “the language of belonging,” giving a voice to silent hours spent submerged in water. [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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