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Swimming Studies [Kindle Edition]

Leanne Shapton
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $30.00
Kindle Price: $11.99
You Save: $18.01 (60%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

Winner of the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award, Autobiography

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 reveals an intimate narrative of suburban adolescence, spent underwater in a discipline that continues to inspire Shapton’s work as an artist and author. Her illustrations throughout the book offer an intuitive perspective on the landscapes and imagery of the sport. Shapton’s emphasis is on the smaller moments of athletic pursuit rather than its triumphs. For the accomplished athlete, aspiring amateur, or habitual practicer, this remarkable work of written and visual sketches propels the reader through a beautifully personal and universally appealing exercise in reflection.

Editorial Reviews


“Swimming Studies sets out, through a fusion of words and pictures, to capture a bittersweet part of the writer's past as completely as a scent trapped in a bottle.  The book is beautiful as both a story and an object.  It's about being very, very good at something, when you want to be great.  I was moved by it in ways both expected and unexpected."
—John Jeremiah Sullivan, author of Pulphead
“If there is a more beautifully observed examination of weightlessness, silence, rigor, and delight of what it means to swim, I've never read it.  Leanne Shapton is one of the most broadly creative and gifted people at work today; a true artist, both visual and verbal.  There seems to be nothing she cannot write or paint about: adolescence, Canada, yearning, dawn - even cake, for heaven's sake! - with a precision both surgical and poetic.  The joys of Swimming Studies are in being in the care of someone of a prodigious and protean mind.  My talent crush is official and deep.”
—David Rakoff, author of Half Empty
“I'm so happy this book exists.  Swimming Studies expresses what it's like to be haunted by the person one used to be, and the search for how that person exists in the present.  Leanne Shapton writes with such curiosity, ruefulness, intelligence, and grace.  Here we see how the discipline of being an athlete can condition one's way of making art, and how the patience necessary to make art teaches other types of patience.  Like the patience required to be a spouse and to love a person always.  This book is a rare treat for anyone who cares about any of these things.”
—Sheila Heti, author of How Should a Person Be?
“A fusion of cool, clear-eyed prose and watercolors, photographs and painted portraits...[and] a curiously arresting study of the transition from a world of rigor and routine to one of reflection and recreation....The brilliance of Swimming Studies lies in its delicate exploration of how the identities we’ve carved out for ourselves in the present are both haunted and shaped by the people we used to be.”
Time Out New York
“[W]hat makes this book astounding....[is] any dedicated swimmer knows exactly what Shapton means; we sense and control our movements, from the tips of our fingers to the flutter of our feet, breathing very specifically, detecting any shifts in conditions, from the presence of other swimmers to the tug of a current....Shapton pares down her experiences as a swimmer and grafts the core lessons to other parts of her life, allowing them to bloom in ways that have everything and nothing to do with swimming.”
—Buzz Poole,
“A cool memoir about competitive swimming that might as well be called The Unbearable Lightness of Being....Shapton, never self-pitying, offers an original, mythical elixir of life in the water.”
“[A] thoughtful, exquisitely written book...ostensibly about [Shapton’s] lifelong relationship to the sport, complete with photos of her various bathing suits and meditations on the difference between swimming (i.e., competitive swimming) and bathing (i.e., swimming for fun)....She even includes some haunting, cobalt blue illustrations of pools she frequents as an adult, as well as a color guide to different swimming smells, such as "coach: fresh laundry, Windbreaker nylon, Mennen Speed Stick, Magic Marker, and bologna." These extra visual elements dazzle, but the specifics of this world and her insightful take on her own far-from-ordinary life are what makes any reader wonder if Shapton's gold medal might have already been won—in writing.”
—, Book of the Week
“Shapton draws on her experience training for the Olympic trials in a refreshing and thoughtful memoir about swimming as competition and way of life. Her ode to the water is not only philosophical but incredibly moving.”
Entertainment Weekly
“The talented illustrator Leanne Shapton, in her pointillistic and quietly profound new memoir, Swimming Studies...writes as confidently as she draws, and memorably conjures swimming’s intense, primordial and isolating pleasures....Shapton’s prose frequently has the density of poetry....[she] is so smart and so likable that you will pass her book along to the swimmers in your life.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“In this small, lovely book, [Shapton] combines words and images in an exquisitely observed meditation on swimming and memory....What’s thrilling about this book is its author’s careful attention to detail and unlikely beauty. More impressionistic than a traditional memoir, the book nonetheless sketches an arc that brings the author back to competitive swimming, in masters races in the United States.”
—Kate Tuttle, The Boston Globe
“Painter and illustrator Leanne Shapton relates with poignancy the details of a competitive swimmer's life...beautifully written, beautifully constructed, and thoughtful.”
—Huffington Post
“[Swimming Studies] is brilliant, eccentric and moving—an immersion in a life....Shapton has a novelist's instinct for the nostalgic charge of the inconsequential....Her language is as crisp as the autumn day she describes.”
—Kate Kellaway, The Observer (UK)
“Acknowledging the ultimate incomprehensibility of athletic greatness, [Shapton] nonetheless brings us closer to its essence....If those countless practice laps and those not-quite-Olympian results were what it took to produce Swimming Studies, it was worth it: Shapton has bottled the elusive meaning of having tried and failed at a sport better than any book I’ve read since Pat Jordan’s classic A False Spring.  Read Swimming Studies and enjoy the incomprehensible greatness of the world’s best all the more.”
—Ian McGillis, The Montreal Gazette (Canada)
“[Shapton’s] eye for detail [is] amazingly shrewd...gaspingly beautiful in its insight, proving her project actually has very little to do with swimming...Swimming Studies is an intimate and beautiful meditation on human fallibility and the embarrassing, often unstated anxiety of success.”
—Stacey May Fowles, The National Post (Canada)
“In her illustrated memoir, Shapton, a writer, artist, and former contender for the Canadian Olympic team, grapples with the habits she learned as a teen-age competitive swimmer....and her honed attention to detail gives the reader the sensation of watching a meticulous mind watching itself, down to the hundredth of a second.”
The New Yorker
“It looks like Shapton can succeed at whatever she puts her mind to; swimming is where that started....As few people can, Shapton draws a connection between making art and being an athlete, focusing on the unending effort it takes to do well....She is, no doubt, a creative powerhouse, one who puts words and pictures together with a quiet force that comes only from solid, dedicated practice.”
—Carolyn Kellogg, Los Angeles Times
“I was a competitive swimmer, and I have never read anything that captured the sport so well. Shapton knows just the details to include...Her sparse, satisfying prose is your guide, and you’re glad to get to swim beside her.”
—Carolyn Kormann,

“Through immaculate observation and evocative recollection, Leanne Shapton’s autobiographical Swimming Studies achieves the seemingly impossible. In a series of sharp snapshots of life as a competitive swimmer and beyond, she has managed to find “the language of belonging,” giving a voice to silent hours spent submerged in water....beautifully written and gorgeous to look at, too....Ultimately, Swimming Studies is about more than swimming. It’s about how the discipline of competitive sport teaches routine, perseverance and good habits. It’s about how the diligence of athletic practice can translate into art, communication and even love.”
—Nicola Joyce, The Washington Post

About the Author

Leanne Shapton is an illustrator and author of several books, including Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris. She is also the cofounder of J&L Books, a nonprofit publisher of art and photography books.

Product Details

  • File Size: 17998 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Blue Rider Press (July 5, 2012)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0072NWK88
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #400,402 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Swim lit July 5, 2012
There's something elusive, unsatisfying about this book - it doesn't have the absolutely lovely finality of Roger Deakin's Waterlog for instance - but that feeling of lack, of something missing is also what the book is about. Much recommended, though I regretted buying the book on Kindle - there are a lot of images that really don't translate to the small black-and-white screen.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Water and Watercolors September 12, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Swimming Studies" is Shapton's memoir of her life as young swimmer training for Olympic trials, her continued fascination with water and bodies in water, and her eventual turn toward art. She's brave and honest, and her descriptions transport - you feel the squeeze of a bathing cap, the atmosphere in a bus full of young athletes on their way to a competition, the chlorinated air of swimming pools, her elation, and her exhaustion.

Her book isn't a sport memoir so much as a meditation on her journey (often a watery one), as Shapton figures out how her former swimming life inspires her life as an artist. I came to this book not as a swimmer, but as an artist, and it resonated when Shapton quoted "The Nuts and Bolts of Psychology for Swimmers," by Keith Bell. He writes about training discipline, the nonnegotiable commitment to practice. Words that apply equally to working on a creative project, once you have set a goal: "It doesn't make much sense to have to decide whether to take each individual step in a trip you have already decided to make."

I love Shapton's watercolor portraits of fellow swimmers, rectangles of pool water, and gallery of vintage swimsuits - in both digital and paper forms (our family ended up with both versions, and it was fun to compare the illustrations) - the book is a treasure!
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Swimming Studies July 14, 2012
After hearing the author interviewed on NPR, I bought the book, which is beautifully designed, and read it in close to one sitting. I found it disjointed, sometimes boring and confusing and a rather frustrating read as this collage of a book ultimately doesn't really give a deep sense of the author, or what her point is aside from her frustration, attraction and ambivalence toward swimming and pools. I don't know quite what to make of this book or the author, but there were moments where her reflections and thoughts resonated with me more deeply.... then these ruminations were lost among the nonlinear format of the memoir. I did love the artwork scattered throughout but wanted ultimately to feel the depth of her relationship with swimming and art. Unfortunately this memoir left me feeling she had only touched the surface of things.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Sample is great, but Kindle Images Awful December 4, 2012
I was riveted by the sample of Swimming Studies I downloaded to my kindle. However, how the publishers can demand $14,99 for a book which is equally dependent on images as on words for an electronic device is ridiculous. The images simply do not translated to a Kindle...these are watercolors, or so I read in reviews, but on the kindle they are smudgey and black and white. I want to read this book but will wait until I can buy one used.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars as a former swimmer September 7, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
As a former schronized swimmer and competive swimmer I was quite anxious to read. Ms. Sharptons descriptive writting brought me right back to the smell of chlorine,sweating in a pool!(non swimmers find this hard to believe) aching muscles and not wating to get out of bed for practice!
Great to know another person "gets it"that Iam truly home in the water! I have always felt the water is a calling..its my calling...true serenity.
Thank you ms sharpton:-)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting and enjoyable September 5, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I loved this book - enjoyed seeing the inside of the world of competitive swimming. I also enjoyed her collection of vintage swimsuits and swimming locations. I would have given this 5 stars, but her artwork section was not at the same level as the rest of the book. Perhaps it was better in print (I read on Kindle Fire).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Boring- January 4, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Had to read this for a class. It was OK but not my cup of tea. Had to keep waking myself up. If you are into swimming maybe you'd like it better than me-
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not very engaging to me.. October 12, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Maybe it's because I've been a swim parent for many years and a masters swimmer myself, but I wasn't very excited about the book. Although I recognize a lot of Leanne's experiences and observations there wasn't a whole lot of "kick" in the book for me. There were some parts with explanations (i.e. of long course/short course and swim meets) that I thought sounded like explaining to a child.
However, it's called "swimming studies" so it's not supposed to be read like a novel. If you don't know much about swimming, it is likely a much more satisfying read. As for me, it didn't tell me there wasn't anything new. Hats off to the author though, being a competitive swimmer is extremely tough; I raised 3 of them!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Leanne Shapton is awesome and her books are always fun
This book is another example of the work product of a singularly creative mind. I really enjoy Shapton's illustrations and offbeat, witty observations. Highly recommend.
Published 9 months ago by Judy O'Rourke
5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific Book
As a cellist, artist and swimmer, this book is very appealing! I didn't swim as a child and this gives me a good look into the life of a young, serious swimmer. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Deborah M. Brudvig
5.0 out of 5 stars innovative and beautiful work
Shapton is simply one of the most innovative and outstanding illustrators of our times. Her work resonates beyond the pages and the images stay with you, forever.
Published 10 months ago by arkitekt
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book for the serious swimmer!
This book is definitely written for someone who is, or has been, a serious swimmer. I was a swimmer throughout college and still consider it a life long sport for fitness and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Brenda Kay Cooper
4.0 out of 5 stars Remembrance of childhood
I, too, was a child swimmer but I was not fast; instead I joined the YWCA's synchronized swimming group. Read more
Published 17 months ago by Patricia Burgess
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
I don't really want to explain my rating. I loved this book and anyone who swims, even casually, would likely love it too.
Published 17 months ago by Zita
5.0 out of 5 stars If you love swimming and art
What a wonderful book. There was so much grace, elegance, articulation entwined in a lyrical world of aquatic ruminations, reviews of international pools, Canadian snow, spaghetti... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Steven Ballou
4.0 out of 5 stars Judge it by its cover!
I don't disagree with the criticism of this book, there are moments when one wonders why someone wrote it and why someone (especially if that someone is oneself) is reading it. Read more
Published 19 months ago by D B Cooper
4.0 out of 5 stars honest and thought provoking
I've been afraid of competition, particularly in sports. I love to swim. I sought to understand both with this book. Read more
Published 19 months ago by K. Collins
5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone who loves swimming
Will appreciate this book. The bonus comes with the author's artwork. Shapton has many gifts. SHe is equally adept in words and pictures, and I assume in the water. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Paakre
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