Swimming Studies — Leanne Shapton

CULTURE_BOTW_Swimming-Studies_Post2Swimming Studies is a memoir of a former competitive swimmer, Leanne Shapton. She takes us through what it was like to swim as a child, to quit once and come back to the sport as a college student. She writes how she is coping without swimming now as an adult. She uses brief short stories to explain snippets of what it was like to swim competitively. She describes the cold spaghetti she ate to carbo-load before meets as a child and how she can’t remember either of her experiences at the Olympic Trials.

After reading mostly Young Adult novels since January, I decided to read something for adults. My best friend, a former swimmer as well, brought this book to my attention. I’ve always enjoyed reading memoirs and I thought this one would be particularly moving as a former competitive swimmer myself. I was nowhere as good as the Leanne but it was interesting to read how someone else dealt with the gaping loss in your life when you quit swimming. There were quotes she had said to her coaches, thoughts she had about practices, meets and racing, that were almost verbatim to thoughts I had. She also provides pictures of all of her swimsuits from the past 20 or 30 years. That was some of the most fun to look at. She has her racing suits and her leisure suits. It was interesting to see how racing suits have changed and the different styles of suits.

I’ve never read a memoir set up quite like this one. Most of the memoirs are written in mostly chronological order, telling about a single time in the author’s life. Take Jack Gantos’ Hole in My Life, which chronicles his time leading up to and during his time in prison for an example (which if you haven’t read you should!). Leanne’s story has no order to it at all. Each story is short and most of the time I wished she had expanded on some of her own experiences more and left out some of the descriptions of pools. The disjointed narrative worked in places and really didn’t in others. It made the book easy to put down and read as you feel the need to come back to swimming. I like to read books in a few sittings, this narrative order made it difficult for me to follow when reading for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Overall, I am really glad I read Swimming Studies, even if I did have to put it down at times because it was hard to read something so similar to an experience I had for 10 years. I’m not sure who I would recommend this book to. Non-swimmers might not understand the references, although Shapton does a wonderful job of explaining the nuances to swimming and racing. I think more than anything else a non-swimmer would find this book boring. When recommending this book to a swimmer, it would depend on the swimmer. They may not want to relive these moments and some may even question, “Why read something when I’ve already lived it?”

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