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Swimming Studies

3.86 of 5 stars 3.86  ·  rating details  ·  691 ratings  ·  143 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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18th out of 57 books — 122 voters
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Underdog Literature: 2012
221st out of 241 books — 69 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,266)
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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
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
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
(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
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
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
Francesca Marciano
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
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
Apr 07, 2014 Martyn rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
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
Andy Miller
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 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
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
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
Claudia f. Savage
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
"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.
This is a wonderful little book. I was reading Women in Clothes and was reading some background on the authors, found Leanne Shapton's life very interesting and in some ways similar to mine. I ordered this from the library and read it cover to cover quickly. It's just what it sounds like ...a series of short linked essays or stories or memories of childhood to adulthood and the early years of her marriage. It's not like short stories, actually; they flow together, but they're episodic. I'm a swi ...more
Geri Degruy
Leanne Shapton takes risks with form. This book is her tales of growing up swimming and then competitive swimming. She includes drawings, pages of pictures of old swimsuits, pools, memories. Fascinating treatment.
Pure enjoyment. Could have read it all in one sitting if I didn't have a job.
An enticing package of a book, every aspect visually thought out down to the last detail—to the extent that when you hold the book sideways, you see two dark 'lane markers' in the page ends.

A mix of prose and art, not always very well integrated. (Though on the plus side, rather original in its blend.) I enjoyed it and liked the personal memoir about what it was like to be a pre-Olympic-caliber swimmer and what it was like to leave that behind. Shapton, trained in art and employed as an art dir
Lindsay (Little Reader Library)
‘I dream about swimming at least three nights a week.’

Leanne Shapton used to be a competitive swimmer. She trained for the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic swimming trials when she was a teenager. Now, as an adult, she reflects on the training she did, the fiercely competitive world she was part of, and looks at what part this might all play in her life now that she is no longer involved in the swimming competitions which once totally dominated her life.

It’s fascinating to read about the world tha
The design of this book is gorgeous. Here's a tip: if you hold this book in the sunlight, it reflects the colour of pool water in your room. I think I need a copy just so I can achieve this illusion in the winter.

This is a non-fic that reads like a story. It offers insights into the world of the competetive swimmer that I've never thought about (electronic touch pads? wat?), but also delves deeply into the author's own life and reflections. I realize this will be filed with the sports books, but
Once again, I am writing about a book that I liked very much. The author was a competitive swimmer from Canada who competed in the Olympic Trials twice in the 80's (she did not make the team). From age about 8 through her 20's she swam competitively, including for McGill University while in college. She is also an artist and an illustrator.

She writes meditations on swimming, training, being very, very good at something (but not great) and how all that training marks her current life. Swimming i
Wow, this book did a number on me. As a competitive swimmer at just about LS's level (nationals, US Open, the whole lot, up through qualifying for trials, then quitting), this really hit home, and hard. So much so that I think someone who hasn't swam reads this, as per LS, as a trip to a foreign country, the chlorinated, exhausted, anxious, lonely, and self-contained world of the swimmer. But as one recovering from the experience, this was more nostalgia than foreign country, a return, and a vis ...more
I was a competitive swimmer in my youth, which undoubtedly makes this book even more enjoyable to me, but the writing and book design are above average. I would recommend this book to a non-swimmer too, and would be curious to hear that reader's thoughts on it.

The book design has a consistent aesthetic that echoes the subject. Planted in the book in groupings are paintings by the author (the pool paintings group is terrific, the others... meh, but appreciate their inclusion nonetheless), and in
Wow. I really enjoyed this book.

For me, the book goes through a progression echoing the author's growth as a swimmer and probably a writer/artist. At first it is very pragmatic and filled and focused on her introduction into swimming: teams, times, swimmers, equipment. Then very courageous in its honesty and details. Shapton reveals moments of weakness, self-loathing, aimlessness, and even bouts of depression. Lastly, it is introspective and more revealing of near present details and how swimmin
Margaret Carmel
I really enjoyed how this book! This really spoke to me because this is how I feel about my own sport, rowing. Since I began training everything in my life has been altered because I have discovered that I am more powerful than I thought and I have become even more driven to succeed. My rowing days are always in the back of my mind, especially when i'm near a body of water that is row-able. Another thing about this book that really spoke to me was the fact that this book is about someone who is ...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.” 5 likes
“When I swim now, I step into the water as though absentmindedly touching a scar.” 4 likes
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