The Joy of Swimming
by Lisa Congdon
c.2016, Chronicle Books
$18.95 / $26.95 Canada
People say you’re all wet.
Maybe that’s not the nicest thing you’ve ever heard but hey! If something’s true, it’s true, right? Yep, you love being in a pool, lake, pond, the ocean, a puddle, it doesn’t matter. And in “The Joy of Swimming” by Lisa Congdon, you’ll meet like-minded people in swimsuits.
At the tender age of eight, Lisa Congdon learned to love swimming when her mother signed her up for swim team near their California home. It was fun, but it was work, and her interest in swimming declined: life got in the way, school demanded time, injuries happened. It wasn’t until college, after she came out as a lesbian, that Congdon resumed the sport in earnest, and it connected her to the better parts of her life.
Swimmers, as she shows in this book, come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. Gertrude Ederle, for instance, was just twenty years old when she swam the English Channel in under 15 hours, a record she held for a quarter-century. Johnny Weissmuller, who later played Tarzan in the movies, was the first person to swim the 100-meter freestyle in less than a minute. Roxanne Winston thinks more black swimmers should “feel inspired to join the sport.” Kimberly Chambers almost lost her leg to “a freak accident,” but she still swims. Chel Micheline finds that being in the water frees her from spina bifida.
But swimming isn’t just about a cool dip in the lake: dog paddling can be embarrassing (unless, of course, you’re a dog!), so you’ll want to know a few basic strokes, the science behind and the history of which Congdon explains. You’ll learn a “very brief history” of swimming pools here, too, including where the largest one is located; you’ll read an itsy-bitsy bio on the bikini; and you’ll get quick facts on swimming and the Olympics.
Find out why you’ll want to cover your eyes if you visit an Icelandic locker room. See how even Michael Phelps is slow, compared to a sailfish. Get the real definition of a “swimming hole.” And find out why some people take bandages along when visiting a public pool in Japan.
Seriously, can you ever have a summer without at least one great big cannonball, dead-center in the water? If your answer is to the negative, then “The Joy of Swimming” is a perfect poolside book for you.
Using old ads, interviews, and her own drawings as illustration, author Lisa Congdon offers readers a bit of quirk for their deck chair. This has the feel of a sketch book or a haphazardly-kept scrapbook with mini-memoirs of the famous and never-famous, trivia, Olympic facts, statistics, and random thoughts. That messiness is really appealing, and you’ll come to love this book after a few laps around its pages.
Dip your toes in if you dare, or just dive right in. The water’s fine, and so is this book; for mermaid, athlete, or mere fans of the old waterin’ hole, “The Joy of Swimming” will make a big splash.