My favorite book this year — at least it’s the one I’ve picked out of the stack beside my bed the most often — is Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton (Blue Rider Press), a memoir of competitive swimming and a meditation on the swimming pool that defies any attempt to sum it up in a single line. I first read about it on the Paris Review Daily in the depths of February, when it seemed like swimming pool weather would never come; Shapton is an artist and an illustrator to go along with the equipoise of her prose style, and reading the book from night to night is like sitting on the stands at poolside and watching her swim the 4X100 meter medley of a life. The chapters are interspersed with portraits in watercolor, photographs of swimsuits on soft mannequin torsos, and abstract renderings of all the swimming pools that Shapton has known. ”Ever present is the smell of chlorine,” Shapton writes of her childhood in Toronto, “and the drifting of snow in the dark.” The cover is even the color of poolwater in sunlight, with the darker silhouette of a swimmer’s bathing cap.
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