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Swimming Studies

3.88  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,003 Ratings  ·  189 Reviews
"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 re ...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published July 5th 2012 by Blue Rider Press (first published July 1st 2012)
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Streamline by Jennifer LaneSwim Recruit by Jennifer LaneOf Poseidon by Anna BanksEverblue by Brenda PandosTangled Tides by Karen Amanda Hooper
Swimming Books
19th out of 65 books — 130 voters
Barrakuda by Christos TsiolkasSwim to Me by Betsy CarterSwimming Studies by Leanne ShaptonBliss, Remembered by Frank DefordOut of Synch by Warren Firschein
Best books about swimming, fiction
3rd out of 22 books — 7 voters

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Community Reviews

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Dec 14, 2013 Deja rated it really liked it
I found this book fascinatingly good. Meaning it was good, and I was fascinated to be finding it so. It's nonfiction, a collection of essays (and some art) about the author's relationship with swimming. She trained for and participated in Olympic trials when she was younger, and the book asks what one does with a skill like this--one we had as a child, but no longer have direct use for. At times she continues to train, but doesn't see much point in it, and other times she just embraces a side in ...more
Peter Derk
Mar 19, 2014 Peter Derk marked it as did-not-finish
Once I got a love note from someone that describes what happened with this book. Well, not a love note. A former love note? A What Happened To Us note? Something like that. Anyway, it was a note, pen on paper, and it was about the topic of love, though not professing love.

I get a lot of this terminology confused. You can see why the love notes I've written end up being about 8 pages long, with illustrations. Yes, there are illustrations. The recipient's level of excitement regarding said illustr
Jul 17, 2012 Hannah rated it it was amazing
Leanne Shapton is my newest writer-crush & possibly the best describer of colors and smells I have ever read. When I read her weirdly brilliant novel/auction catalog "Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris", in which descriptions of shirts and salt-shakers made me cry, I knew it was love. Her latest, Swimming Stories, is a memoir of her time as a competitive (nearly Olympic!) swimmer, which is a brilliant disguise for a book about mak ...more
Sep 12, 2012 Heather rated it it was amazing
(Somewhat shortened version of my thoughts on this book; full blog post here.)

In the last of the thirty pieces (some all text, some all images, some a mix of both) that make up Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton writes this:

I think about loving swimming the way you love somebody. How a kiss happens, gravitational. About compromise, sacrifice, and breakup. [...]

I think about loving swimming the way you love a country. The backseat of my father's car, driving through Toronto's older neighborhoods
Dec 12, 2012 Matt rated it really liked it
I'm kind of crazy for Shapton's stuff, which makes me kind of a stereotype or something. But super-designy books feel a little like the reward you give yourself for reading lots of books that are mostly just words, and this one doesn't disappoint in that way: lots of watercolors, and toward the end, some sketches (of Vals) that look like they might use thin line magic markers) breaking up prose passages about Shapton's long life as a swimmer-- she tried out for the Olympics in 88 and 92, not mak ...more
Apr 02, 2013 Janet rated it liked it
Shelves: autobio, water
I don’t know exactly what I was expecting but it wasn’t this. Maybe something more along the lines of what it feels like to be an Olympic hopeful training your ass off only to miss making the team TWICE. Leanne Shapton had such an experience not that you’d really know by reading this book. There is just no linear narrative here and what there is almost necessitates knowledge of who she is today: illustrator, art director, editor, author. The book is comprised of short chapters that slash through ...more
Jul 14, 2016 Lynn rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this beautifully written memoir of a competitive swimmer who tried fiercely to be an olympian. Lovely mix of vivid descriptions, snippets of stories, art and photos. The usual athlete memoir is about triumph; this one is about trying your hardest and still not making the cut. I love it that the author still finds joy in swimming.
Nov 01, 2015 Amélie rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, canada, 2015
Artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins, they require the same thing, an unspecial practice: tedious and pitch-black invisible, private as guts, but always sacred. (p. 226)

Ce livre sent le chlore & le béton mouillé & le maillot de bain qui n'a pas eu le temps de sécher durant la nuit & il me donne le goût de recommencer à nager.

Je ne lis pas beaucoup de livres comme ceux-ci, à mi-chemin entre les mémoires & une forme très intime d'exploration, mais je soup
May 28, 2014 David rated it it was ok
definitely different. I'm now not sure how this made its way onto my list of books to look for at the library, maybe a review that made it sound interesting. To me it was not. She made the Canadian Olympic trials as a swimmer twice in the 1980s but professes not to remember much about those meets in particular.

So it amounts to many disjointed vignettes about growing up as a swimmer --cute boys on the team, counting laps, getting rides to early morning practices from her mom or older brother, eat
Aug 18, 2013 Patricia rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
This was a most interesting book, not the least of which which was the cover, which felt like books I used to get out of the library when I was a kid, sort of a cloth finish over cardboard, and the bathing cap drawing on the front was classic. I know one of the reasons I liked the book is because Shapton captured the essence of being a child athlete, in particular a swimmer, whose life revolved around the pool. I know this world as my own. Though I was a synchronized swimmer, there were numerous ...more
Apr 25, 2016 Elsabe rated it it was amazing
My friend lives and advocates that if you can't sing like Maria Callas, don't sing. This absolutely brilliant book by the equally brilliant and beautiful Leanne Shapton reconfirms my own attitude towards life - experiment and taste everything fully but keep only what brings you joy. The resulting fabric that is ultimately you, contains all the good, bad, better and worse.
I so admire how she maintains the teal thread of swimming in her life, but gives it another pattern in the weave.
I apprecia
Aug 27, 2013 Lidja rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2013, unfinished
"Studies" in visual art means the artist is practicing various details in preparation to create a finished piece---kind of like doodling to work out specific details. That's exactly what this book feels like. The author gathered up many little exercises of writing about details but never actually created the finished piece. There's no "whole" here. Interesting for swimming enthusiasts, I guess, but not meaningful enough to keep me engaged.
Francesca Marciano
May 12, 2014 Francesca Marciano rated it it was amazing
Beware, this book is not for swimmers only. Leanne Shapton is a graphic novelist, artist, designer of the op page of the NYT, the author of a brilliant book I fell in love with years ago, "Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry", shaped like an auction catalogue that describes a love affair and its subsequent breakup through the photos of the objects that have been exchanged by the couple. her ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Martyn rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Recommended to Martyn by: Ann Patchett
When Ann Patchett recommended this book to us at a PLA 2014 presentation I dutifully wrote it down, along with the other titles she put forward, and ordered them up when I returned to work. I put a couple on my to read list for later, the ones that didn't quite grab me enough, but I kept coming back to this one. I loved the cover and was intrigued by the author's art work spread throughout. I was also hooked to this title in particular by what Ann Patchett had said - "I would never have picked u ...more
Andy Miller
Sep 12, 2012 Andy Miller rated it liked it
This book is described as a " well written memoir of competitive and recreational swimming" by a former swimmer who qualified for Olympic Trials but not the Olympics. There were great parts to the book, in her first chapter the author, Leanne Shapton, gives an insider's detailed account of the moments before a race in an elite meet, explaining timing, lane judging, lane assignments and the pre race psychology in the ready room and on deck before the race. Shapton also described the swimmer/coach ...more
Jo Bennie
Nov 30, 2014 Jo Bennie rated it really liked it
Shelves: s
Shapton's book is part autobiography part art. As a young girl she followed her brother into swimming and became an elite swimmer, her career culminating in taking part in the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic Trials. Although her time as an athlete is over she speaks in her book of how her dreams are still of the endless round of land and water training, trials, competitions, training camps, early mornings and long distance journeys, of teammates, coaches, food and the sights and sounds of the poo ...more
Leigh Newman
Feb 06, 2013 Leigh Newman rated it really liked it
Growing up in Canada, Leanne Shapton was one of a handful of teenagers hand-picked to become world-class swimmers. She made 5 a.m. practices, traveled to distant meets and developed an obsession with time due to stop watches that gave her "the ability to make still lifes out of tenths of seconds." And then came the moment at age 14, when it occurs to her "gently, in a quiet flash: I'm not going to go to the Olympics. I will not be going. Not me." Rather that quit the team, she continues to train ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
I love Leanne Shapton's books - they go beyond writing and are more like art books in a Sophie Calle and Miranda July kind of way.
This book is a memoir of sorts, mainly about swimming, but also about family and love and art and travel. I would say that you would love this book even if you don't have any interest in swimming, but you perhaps won't love it if you just picked it up BECAUSE it's about swimming.
For me though, there was a lot to relate to as I am about the same age as Shapton and als
Aug 26, 2012 Patrick rated it really liked it
I have little interest in memoir as a genre. To me, the best-written memoirs approach the status of great fiction both in terms of their relationship to historical truth, and in their ability to express both what is particular and what is universal about human experience. To put it another way, the best memoirs ought not to read like a shopping list of great achievements, but an interpretation of one’s own past which, in the writing, makes it both untrue and more true in the same way as a good n ...more
Jan 09, 2013 Bailey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2012, 2012-favorites
Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton was such a beautiful, inventive book. Shapton takes a thoughtful look at the life of a competitive athlete in a solitary sport, and how those abilities linger and manifest once your days of competing are over. I come from a distance running background and have always felt like running and swimming are first cousins, both involving hours of practice alone with your physical limits and discomfort. Nothing to break up the activity but thoughts in your head as you ...more
Jan 18, 2013 Andrea rated it really liked it
A series of vignettes that detail and reflect on Shapton’s swimming life – as a competitor in her teens, and recreationally as an adult. They are mostly written, with some watercolors – blue toned portraits of teammates, international swimming pool layouts; there’s a fantastic section of “blue sepia” photographs showing Shapton’s large swimming suit collection, each suit presented opposite a single paragraph scene. The parts don’t necessarily add up to a dramatic whole, but I don’t think they’re ...more
Kris Springer
Mar 29, 2015 Kris Springer rated it really liked it
Shelves: adult-nf-to-read
This is the kind of book that's different for everyone, I think. There's Shapton's text, about her swimming life, her emotional life, and the love of swimming. The openness in her writing invites the reader to ponder our own relationship with a pursuit, either athletic or otherwise; for me, it is music. So from the very personal comes universal, human themes about being really good but not necessarily great; maturity and acceptance; and learning to present ourselves to the world as more than one ...more
Ann Frost
Jun 12, 2016 Ann Frost rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. However, I am not sure everyone will love it the same way. It is an odd book. Each of the chapters is a small vignette. Some are accompanied by the author's art work. The author is a former national level swimmer - went to Olympic trials twice, but never to the big show. So a very good swimmer. She writes about her experiences as a kid swimming at a highly competitive level. And even though she swam in the 80s and I swam in the 70s, I could so totally relate - to the pools, th ...more
Douglas Lord
Aug 25, 2015 Douglas Lord rated it it was amazing
Shapton (cofounder, J&L Books) was at one time a damned good swimmer. So good, in fact, that she did quite well at the Canadian Olympic trials. Nothing gets you further into your own head than mucho pool time, and these 30 reflective essays on myriad subjects show a perceptive, sweet young adult absorbing (even devouring) everything around her. Some pieswimces ramble and some are only loosely related to swimming, while others focus tightly on the subject, but all of them address swimming in ...more
Claudia f. Savage
Mar 30, 2014 Claudia f. Savage rated it liked it
You know how excited you are to get a beautifully wrapped box of chocolates on a Wednesday when you weren't expecting anything only to open the box, bite in, and realize that the chocolates were, in fact, carob and not chocolates at all? (OK, maybe only 70s kids get this reference.) That's kind of how reading Leanne Shapton's book was for me. The quirky swimsuits, the paintings of swimming pools and competitors, all lovely and fun. But, when you get right down to it, she isn't a very good writer ...more
Aug 22, 2016 Ashley rated it it was amazing
"The one thing I am formally trained at is swimming. I'm aware I rely on this training when I'm working, that I know when to push through and when to rest, that I've figured out the equivalent of drills, interval training, and performance when I'm on a deadline or trying to realize a project. But I don't know where to put the old skill, if I can, or even want to, incorporate it into my adult life."

- Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton

I started swimming lessons on Thursday. I took swimming every sum
Kyle Schnitzer
Aug 12, 2016 Kyle Schnitzer rated it it was amazing
"Swimming Studies" is the kind of book that makes you appreciate swimming, specifically the grueling routine every swimmer goes through. And while it is a memoir on Shapton's swimming experience, there's much more to it than just a pool and water. Loneliness, the meaning of self, observations of what's around you -- those are the themes I took away from this riveting memoir.

Everyone is a swimmer, or rather, everyone has a career or dream that they chase and try to perfect. Sometimes it works and
Erinn Batykefer
This was a beautiful memoir, one in which swimming itself grows into a silent, but ever-present, character. The name, Swimming Studies, is accurate; the book's project is both lyrical and episodic, not narrative. And yet, Leanne Shapton manages to circle her topic in a way that shapes a narrative out of what isn't there-- what is blank and unsaid--as much as she is able to capture the embodied experience of swimming and its recurring presence in these pages.

Over the course of the book, she circ
Jul 05, 2016 Karen marked it as to-read
* 40 Books to Read Before Turning 40
The manual for making your first four decades the most joyful, wise and stress-free of your life.

Growing up in Canada, Leanne Shapton was one of a handful of teenagers hand-picked to become world-class swimmers. She made 5 a.m. practices, traveled to distant meets and developed an obsession with time due to stop watches that gave her "the ability to make still lifes out of tenths of seconds." And then came the moment at age 14, when it occurs to her "gently, i
Danielle Heffernan
Jul 10, 2016 Danielle Heffernan rated it it was amazing
As someone who spent my formative years swimming competitively, this book was a nice trip down memory lane. While I wasn't Olympic trials caliber, I could relate to a lot of what she reminisced about. Waking up at 5am in the dead of winter to jump into a cold pool? Constantly smelling like chlorine with weirdly colored straw-like hair? Check and check. While I'm certain I liked this book because of my close relationship with swimming, I think it's also beneficial for people that maybe don't know ...more
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Leanne Shapton is an illustrator, author and publisher based in New York City. She is the co-founder, with photographer Jason Fulford, of J&L Books, an internationally-distributed not-for-profit imprint specializing in art and photography books. Shapton grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, and attended McGill Univesity and Pratt Institute. After interning at SNL, Harper's Magazine and for illustat ...more
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“The pictures achieve something rarely articulated about the metaphysical state of swimming: The body, immersed, feels amplified, heavier and lighter at the same time. Weightless yet stronger.” 6 likes
“When I swim now, I step into the water as though absentmindedly touching a scar.” 5 likes
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