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Rob Walker

Swimming Studies


Swimming StudiesLeanne Shapton
Blue Rider Press (2012)

Leanne Shapton is known for her work as a writer and illustrator, but it turns out that her new book, Swimming Studies, is animated by her abilities as an athlete. Shapton swam competitively in high school, and twice in Canadian Olympic trials. She was clearly very good but not, alas, good enough to make the team. That sounds like the end of the story, but it is the beginning of this series of meditations and memories exploring how swimming — in races, for fun, and all points in between — has shaped her life. While it’s a beautifully designed (by Shapton, turns out) book, I had no particular intention of writing about it here, until the Olympic moment collided with the recent vogue for addressing creativity by way of squishy tips and slogans. This made me appreciate how Shapton teases out useful, thoughtful connections between creative and athletic discipline and practice. Her journey includes some unhappy and refreshingly honest news about limits, but in the telling Shapton walks (swims?) her talk: The unconventional structure, episodic and punctuated by paintings, photographed objects, and even family snapshots, hangs together through the quiet confidence of a genuine voice, verbal and visual. You’ve got to be in real condition to pull that off. —Rob Walker


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