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Monday, May 20, 2024
HomeSource PicksThe Bookworm: 'The Joy of Swimming'

The Bookworm: ‘The Joy of Swimming’

“The Joy of Swimming” by Lisa Congdon

c.2016, Chronicle Books              $18.95        141 pages

 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 8 years old, Congdon learned to love swimming when her mother signed her up for swim team in their California neighborhood. It was fun, but it was work, and her interest in swimming declined: life got in the way, school demanded her time, injuries happened. It wasn’t until college that she took up the sport in earnest again, 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 20 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, Congdon offers readers a bit of quirk for their deck chair. This has the feel of a sketchbook 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.


The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Her self-syndicated book reviews appear in more than 260 newspapers.

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