Lately, I’ve been reading really great books, I don’t even quite know where to start reviewing! Some books just hit right home, and Swimming Studies is one of them. Leanne Shapton is a former swimmer who competed in the Canadian Olympic trials in 1992. She later quit competitive swimming and became an artist and writer, but swimming continues to be a very big part of her life. In Swimming Studies, half autobiography, half artistic essay, she explores what swimming has meant to her at different stages of her life and how she has become who she is in part due to swimming.
As a swimmer myself (though of course nowhere near as good as Leanne Shapton), I could relate to her writing in a very personal way. Although for me, swimming has been mostly recreational, I did compete when I was younger, and currently swim as regularly as my life lets me. It’s like once you’re in it, swimming stays with you. When I swim, everything else around me goes, I’m counting strokes and lanes, and when I climb out of the pool I’m tired but relaxed at the same time and my mind has cleared. Swimming, for me, is like going on a mini-retreat. Leanne Shapton describes the way thoughts float through your mind while swimming in a very poetic way:
As I swim, my mind wanders. I talk to myself. What I can see through my goggles is boring and foggy, the same view lap by lap. Mundane, unrelated memories flash up vividly and randomly, a slide show of shuffling thoughts. They flash up and fade, like the thoughts that float peripherally before sleep
There are many very poetic sections in Swimming Studies, but there is also some very interesting art work. One of my favourite bits is Shapton’s photos of her swim suit collection; she describes each suit and where she’s worn it.
I also love the section on smells, which she visualises as multi-coloured dots of paint.
Swimming Studies is one of the most extraordinary books I own because of its mixture of different art forms and Leanne Shapton’s beautiful writing. It’s a stunning book and will stay with me for a long time.