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As a teenager, Leanne Shapton was a competitive swimmer and tried out for the Canadian Olympic swimming team in 1988 and 1992. “Nationally, I ranked eighth once, briefly,” she says. Swimming Studies gives a fascinating insight into the swimming world, where coaches loom above you on the pool side and sounds change as your head breaks through the waterline.

Shapton writes with such grace: it’s easy to imagine her slicing through the water and executing smooth turns. The writing is poetic and interspersed with the author’s illustrations. There are pictures of fellow swimmers with text full of memories beneath them (“Aidan gives me his U2 War T-shirt, unlaundered.”) and photos of Shapton’s swimsuits, changing from competition wear to vintage suits for recreational swimming.

Shapton excels in finding poetry in the everyday. It also has solid facts: the fastest ranked swimmers in a race are allocated the middle lanes, leading to the V-formation you often see in televised swimming races. But it’s also a meditation on talent and on how it feels to be good at something, but not the best. At the age of 14 Shapton realises “gently, in a quiet flash: I’m not going to the Olympics. I will not be going. Not me.”

Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies (Particular Books, Penguin, £20)


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