Yes, I'm still (slowly) making my way through some books that were considered 2012's best. I continue to be a bit underwhelmed.
The latest such title I brought home was Leanne Shapton's Swimming Studies. Other than it appearing on a lot of the year's best lists, I can honestly say I probably wouldn't have looked at it otherwise--I hate swimming and always have. I learned, a bit, when I was little, but I never did learn to tread water and I never really did get used to the sensation of being in a pool. I forget where I was or if it was during lessons or what, but I clearly remember once trying to do the crawl the length of the pool, and no matter how far to the side I turned my head, I kept getting water in my mouth when I was trying to breathe. And I thought, this is stupid. Why I am making it harder to breathe? I don't think I've been in a pool willingly since.*
Anyway. This is a memoir of sorts, of the time Shapton spent swimming, training, and competing in swim tournaments in her youth and throughout her adulthood, even participating in the Canadian Olympic trials (and finishing respectably, although she did not make the Olympics cut). Interspersed throughout the chapters are samples of Shapton's art--including a series of "swimming studies" paintings; a couple of pages of what looks like paint splotches, which correspond to certain smells; and photos of swimming suits she's owned and for what purposes she's used them. If you like your nonfiction a bit eclectic, and you enjoy highly descriptive writing (and the idea of pools doesn't make you throw up) you might actually enjoy this. To her credit, the fact that she could make me remember how pools smelled and felt, really viscerally, says good things about the power of her writing:
"Here is what it sounds like to lane three at the wall: A low thump as her hands hit the touchpad. Brief cheering at an intake of breath, collapsing into bubbles as her head, aligned and steady, dips back and under again at the turn. This is followed immediately by quiet. There is a rippling during the long stroke of her underwater pullout, a tight, thin sigh of effort, a gruff exhalation of air, a grunt at the dolphin kick." (p. 33.)
Shapton is also the author of the humor book Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, which I read seemingly a million years ago and wasn't all that fond of. Although she seems like a very nice person (and she's Canadian--my favorite!), Shapton always leaves me feeling that I am not quite smart enough or artistic enough for her. Actually, I'm sure that's true. And it's okay.
In other review news: Mr. CR hated the cover. Mr. CR's been starting to talk up a bit lately with his nonfiction opinions, and I must say it's been lovely to hear them. Even if it's just on the cover art.
*My goddamn high school installed a pool LITERALLY the last year I had to take a gym class. I refused to get in and told my gym teacher I had my period for the four week duration of the unit. By the third week she said, "You do not." And I said, "Are you going to check?" And that was the end of that. I got an F for the unit but it was so, SO worth it. Stupid phys ed.