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July 30, 2008

CAAF: 5 x 5 Books For The Swim-Obsessed by Jenny Davidson

5 x 5 Books ... is a recommendation of five books that appears regularly in this space. Today's installment comes from Jenny Davidson, author of the marvelous new young-adult novel The Explosionist and proprietrix of Light Reading.

In 2007 I fell head over heels in love -- with swimming. This led me to spend as much time as I could in the water, but unfortunately one cannot always be swimming. the insatiable desire for 'swim lit.' It was difficult to narrow my choices down to five -- what about Diana Nyad's Other Shores, Charles Sprawson's Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero and Sherman Chavoor's The Fifty-Meter Jungle: How Olympic Swimmers are Made? What about the complete novels of Chris Crutcher?!? But here's my list, and I hope you will take a dip or two yourself this summer under their watery influence.

1. Waterlog by Roger Deakin. An altogether magical book, rather in the spirit of W. G. Sebald, about 'wild swimming': the author breaststrokes his way around Britain's less tame spaces and recounts his adventures in angelic prose. (See also.)

2. Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox. At age fifteen, Cox set a world record swimming the English Channel. Later she swam across the Bering Strait at a time when political strain made it very doubtful whether she would obtain permission to set foot on Russian soil. An inspiring book by an exceptional athlete whose ability to tolerate very low water temperatures made possible the feat alluded to in the book's title.

3. The Science of Swimming by 'Doc' Counsilman. For the hard-core swim-obsessed only! Almost mystically redolent of mid-20th-century American sports science, Counsilman's tome includes gems like the following: "The Utopian view of an existence without any form of stress, either physical or mental, is not conducive to the development of a person well prepared for existence in a competitive society."

4. In Lane Three, Alex Archer by Tessa Duder. A wonderful young-adult novel with a strong autobiographical basis; like her protagonist Alex Archer, Tessa Duder was a talented New Zealand swimmer in the late 1950s with her eyes set on the highest goals in competitive swimming. Appealingly introduces the term 'togs' (for bathing suit) and made me grateful for the use of polyester and lycra rather than itchy sagging wool for the suits one wears in the pool nowadays.

5. Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman. Finally, this last selection is incidentally a great novel of swimming, cycling and running, and should be adopted by triathletes everywhere as their literary inspiration.

Posted July 30, 2008 12:30 AM

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