In this warm weather, you may find yourself longing for the beach, dock or pool. If you are one of those people who considers water to be your second home during the summer months, you may be interested in reading about some characters (both real and fictional) who have felt similarly. The following five books, although very different, all celebrate a love of swimming.
The Last Wave by Canadian author Gillian Best is a family drama set in Dover, England. Spread out over the course of several decades, it follows the life of Martha and the people who knew her. Ever since the 1940s, when she was a young girl who accidently fell off of a pier and into the ocean, Martha has been obsessed with the sea. In fact, she swam the English Channel several times during her life – it was her therapy. As a woman with a young family, when she felt burdened by the confines of domestic life, swimming was her escape. Later in life, when she dealt with family estrangements, her husband’s dementia and finally, her own cancer diagnosis, the sea remained her constant companion. A quiet story filled with complex characters, this novel will transport you straight to the beach. Keep in mind though, it won’t be a sunny sandy beach, but rather a chilly and grey English beach.
If you are looking for another lyrical and reflective story about a woman drawn to water, try Turning by Jessica J Lee. It is an all-true memoir where the narrator uses swimming to console her through life's challenges. At the age of 28, Jessica Lee--Canadian, Chinese and British--finds herself all alone in Berlin. She’s lonely and is nursing a broken heart while struggling to write a thesis. As she chips away at her work, what increasingly occupies her is swimming. So she makes a decision that she believes will win her back her confidence and independence: she will swim fifty-two of the lakes around Berlin, no matter what the weather or season. Again, this book will transport you to the beach but it won’t necessarily be a warm one!
Another memoir about an author’s love of (and self-fulfillment through) swimming is Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton. This is yet another lyrical and reflective story, this one following a competitive swimmer who tried fiercely to be an Olympian. It offers an interesting mix vivid descriptions, snippets of stories, art and photos. While your typical athlete memoir is about triumph, Swimming Studies is about trying your hardest and still not making the cut. The positive takeaway, however, is that the author still finds pure joy in swimming.
The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway is also a true Olympian-hopeful story – but it takes a different turn. It is the story of these Japanese-American kids from a Hawaii sugar plantation being coached to national and international swimming success. Those interested in competitive swimming, or even competitive sports generally (think The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown), will be awed by this surprising true story.
Historical fiction fans may be interested in trying Swimming Home by Mary Rose MacColl. This is an engaging story of two people: a young girl (Catherine) who only wants to return to her Australian Island home where she spent her days swimming in the warm water, and her Aunt (Louisa) a surgeon who has very firm ideas as to how a young woman should act in London in 1925. This story begins in Australia, continues in England and finally America, where Catherine has the opportunity to swim against the first woman to swim the English Channel.
All of these titles can be reserved online by clicking any of the titles above.
This article was originally published in the June/July edition of The Scoop.