Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Swimming Studies - Leanne Shapton

‘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 that Leanne Shapton was once part of from the insider’s perspective that she offers us. Clearly the years she spent training so intensively still dominate her life and thoughts even now:

‘I still dream of practice, of races, coaches and blurry competitors. I’m drawn to swimming pools, all swimming pools, no matter how small or murky. When I swim now, I step into the water as though absentmindedly touching a scar. My recreational laps are phantoms of my competitive races.’

There are some great illustrations that add to reader’s understanding of the author’s former world and her experiences – images of Leanne Shapton’s collection of her own swimming costumes and also watercolour pictures of the swimming pools she has swum in. There are images of other swimmers, and the author’s thoughts and reflections about them or anecdotes concerning them.

It’s an intensely personal book of intimate memories, experiences and feelings. The recollections and musings move forward and backwards in time throughout Leanne Shapton’s life. Bringing together her former athletic and her current artistic pursuits, the book also discusses the similarities of effort that both demand. In the author's words, ‘artistic discipline and athletic discipline are kissing cousins.’

The hardback copy of the book, which is the one I have read, is a lovely volume, very pleasing to hold and read. There are just two shades of blue used on the cover, which boasts the title, the author's name and nothing else but a rectangle of light blue to denote a swimming pool; it’s a simple yet very attractive and effective design. 

This is a thoughtful, involving and unusual memoir offering an glimpse into one woman's past and present, illustrating the strict routine and dedication of a swimmer in training to potentially swim for their country at the highest level, and pondering what a person does with that level of dedication and commitment when such an activity is no longer undertaken competitively and life has moved on. I found this an interesting, engaging read, and liked the inclusion of the author's artwork to create a fuller impression of the swimmer's world and add an extra dimension to the book. I'm not an enormous fan of swimming but this didn't hinder my interest in reading about Leanne Shapton's life.

Published by Particular Books, an imprint of Penguin Books

Thank you to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel to read and review.

You can visit the author's website here to find out more.


  1. Hi Lindsay, I wanted to let you know I’ve awarded your blog the Very Inspiring Blog Award. I always enjoy my visits to your blog. Please call in at to find out about the award. Barbara

  2. Swimming is one of my favorite activities- so this book sounds good! :)


  3. Not sure this one would be for me, swimming isn't my thing but I have found a few books fab that I normally wouldn't give the time of day. thanks for reviewing.



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