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Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
I have this book in an italian translation and I would love to read it in the original language. The book in intelligent, accurate and gives you the right idea that underlines the love of generations of great men for the water. Water as adventure, water as duel and meditation, water as gathering matter and sense of life. Episodes and tales to think about, a book that pushes you straight to the closest lake, seaside or swimming pool. Makes you understand as, sometimes, the most valuable and exciting things are not hidden in the deep and dark forest but are easily available and are just waiting to be discovered.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
I re-read this book every few years. It's one of my five favorite books of all time. If you like swimming, you'll love it. It's very poetic, the language is musical, it's unbelievably well written (James Joyce would like reading this), and a marvelous history of swimming, in the arts and in history. Reading it takes you straight to that place your head can sometimes go to, when you're swimming at midnight, in a dark, warm ocean, on a warm summer night, by yourself, and you slip into some kind of waking, crazy, ecstatic, dreamstate, nirvana/satori. This book is almost as good as swimming itself.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
Format: Paperback
Something primordial exists in swimming for those willing to recognize it, perhaps some residue of an ancestral species instinct to the sea, a subliminal memory of submergence in the amniotic sac, or the proffered suspension of temporal consciousness in its weightless rhythms. Sprawson explores this allure in athletics and in literature. Most central to his study are the Romantic poets obsession with swimming and water-- among them Goethe, Shelley, Swinburne, Pushkin, Poe and especially Byron who was a formidable marathon swimmer in his own right.
The Romantic ideal was closely associated with Classical notions of the body and nature, and its notion of hero was intertwined with this. Hellenism held a special thrall over the Romantic period. This was the impetus to Byron's swimming of the Hellespont, and to a tragic sub text to his and other lives as they were swept up in naive movements or misadventure (Byron died in a Greek rebellion against the Turks). Swimming was seen as a dissent from the priggish, sanctimonious, imposed to something pure, original, regenerative through nature.
But there was an impulse to self annihilation as well. Some were smashed on rocks, or gripped by undertows or had their health broken by cold water and over exertion. Fitness was not the prevailing motivation; swimming was muse, cave, judge. Its influence continued into the 20th Century, In Jack London's 'Martin Eden', John Cheever's 'the Swimmer" or Yukio Mishima's seduction by Byron's hedonistic fantasies, it again cast down verdicts of elevation, dissolution and destruction.
I was drawn to this book by an Australian broadcast on swimming during the Sydney Olympics, amongst which was excerpts from this book and an interview with Jon Konrads, the 1500 Meter Olympic Champion of 1960, who had returned to swimming in late middle age after decades of absence. In it he found a cerebral tonic, albeit at a much slower pace-- an invigoration, relaxation and something spiritually satisfying, even more so now than in his Olympic form. This is a worth while read for anyone interested in the sport and pastime. Even for the most pedestrian of lappers, it is an invitation to glide in eddies of imagination, sublimely cognizant of and refining the stroke, seeking some mysterious grace. There swimming provides an elixir of meditation and inspiration-- for those that it does not consume.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
Sprawson's book, more than a decade after its publication, is still the best post-modernist collection of thoughts on swimming in all its forms. It will be of interest to both the atheletic dabbler and the scholarly plunger (not that the two, as ably demonstrated by Sprawson himself, cannot be the same). This remains the best book about the historic and intellectual roots of our modern swimming mad world. Readers wishing to continue their exploration of water's embrace on the human mind and body will find much of interest in my sequal to Sprawson's book - Deep Immersion: The Experience of Water (nominated as top environmental book of the year), which reviews over two hundred modern accounts by writers plunging into water around the world. Stay wet! As Thoreau wrote: "That part of you that is wettest is fullest of life" (quoted in Profitably Soaked: Thoreau's Engagement with Water; Green Frigate Books, 2003)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The author examines swimming from all angles: the history, the competition, the recreation. The style is mesmerizing and turns a mundane subject into a revelation. This book should appeal to swimmers and non-swimmers alike.
The artwork included is outstanding, and makes mw wish the author had included more.
The author includes several stories about his own swimming adventures, but rather than being self-centered, these episodes are avenues into intriguing stories and history.
The style of the writing is smooth and inviting. One gets the feeling that the book is a giant metaphor ... not strictly about water and swimming, but rather using water as a symbol for something larger.
Highly recommended!
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on November 10, 2014
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
Superb, faintly seedy, fascinating book by swimmer and classicist Sprawson on the history of swimming in literature. Having read it years ago when it came out,Opened it up to read in Ballynahinch Castle, and discovered that the swimming pool of Sprawson's boarding school in India was donated by the Edwardian cricketer Ranjitsinhji (otherwise known as the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar), whose portrait hangs in Ballynahinch - he was a former owner of the castle, which is a beloved hotel on the best trout-fishing stream in Ireland. It's typical of the spooky synchronicity evinced in the book, with its awe-inspiring descriptions of the kamikaze, or divine wind, that sent a cloud of butterflies floating over the Japanese winners in the Berlin Olympics; of the Roman pool with a marble lip lapping on to the open sea, with swimming guests fed by delicacies floating in golden boats or swans...
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on May 9, 2011
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
Excellent book. I've been swimming about 59 years. I learned to swim when I was 5. I still swim 2-3 times a week for fitness. About 1 mile each session. I wanted to know more about the philosophy, tradition and heritage of swimming and was surprised there was a book that took those issues on. This is not a how-to book nor is it about fitness or health. Its about why people have been swimming beyond just "crossing the road". Its deep and detailed and sometimes tedious but it felt good when I finished......just like a good swim!
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on July 5, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Densely written, but fascinating. The only book I've read that delves into the heart and mind of an open water swimmer, both on a psychological and historical perspective. I was particularly intrigued by the tales of Byron, Poe, et al. Every swimmer should read!
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on August 30, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Everyone interested in going to the beach should read that scholarly,exquisitely-written, gripping story of the literary swimming hero and his relationship to the sea. You will emerge invigorated.
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on September 10, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book stays with you - I read it years ago but think about it every so often and consider it one of the best modern books I've read.
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