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Swim-Lit

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Canadian books that smell like chlorine, or towels drying off at the lake.
Catch My Drift

Catch My Drift

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook
tagged : literary, sagas

An Atlantic Books Today Editor's Pick

Lorna always wanted to stand out, but her career as a competitive swimmer was cut short by a knee injury. Cara, her daughter, tries hard to blend in, but when she has to fill in for her brother at a school pageant, she is overwhelmed by terror. Lorna is vain about her ability to shut out distractions. Cara can’t control her scary thoughts. And while Lorna tries her best to move past life’s early disappointments, Cara picks at the cracks in her family’s …

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The Last Wave

The Last Wave

edition:Paperback
also available: eBook

A beautifully rendered family drama set in Dover, England, between the 1940s and the present day, The Last Wave follows the life of Martha, a woman who has swum the English Channel ten times, and the complex relationships she has with her husband, her children, and her close friends. The one constant in Martha’s life is the sea, from her first accidental baptism to her final crossing of the channel. The sea is an escape from her responsibilities as a wife and a mother; it consoles her when she …

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Excerpt

“Martha!” I heard my father call from the foot of the stairs. “Put your shoes on and grab a jumper, love.”

I looked out my bedroom window across the rooftops that stretched out towards the flash of the sea on the horizon. The sky was clear and though it wasn’t the bright blue of picture postcards, it seemed like the day was warm enough to go without a jumper which stood every chance of being lost or forgotten, but I did as I was told, taking my least favourite cardigan — mint green with a Peter Pan collar that I despised because it looked like a lime sherbet sweet — and hoping that the outing might provide a believable excuse for me to be rid of it. Though, if having to carry around a cardigan were the price of the excursion, I would happily pay it. Invitations like this did not come around often and if I behaved myself the chance of a second invitation seemed good. Fishing held no interest to me, but the prospect of leaving the confines of our house, garden and road was thrilling. Such escapes were few and far between, even now, a year after the war had ended.

My father stood by the door with his fishing line and a metal lunchbox that I knew contained the hooks and worms he would need my help with. I presented myself to him: feet together, back straight, saluting. It was a habit I had developed when he had come back from the fighting and I had hoped it would convince him that I was respectful and knowledgeable enough to hear about his adventures in France, especially the story that would explain how he had lost his right arm. It didn’t work, but it was one of the few things that could make his face soften.

“You carry the tackle,” he said, as he stepped out of the way so I could open the door for him.

I turned the handle and stepped aside. He walked past me, not stopping to make sure I had closed the door properly which made it perfectly clear to me that he and I were not going fishing together, but rather that I was an interloper and would have to pull my own weight and do my best to keep up.

“There is to be no talking,” my father said, when I had caught up to him.

I nodded in agreement. This was serious business.

“You’re to put one worm on each hook. No more, no less.”

I nodded.

“Take care not to drop the worm. I don’t want to be surrounded by dead worm bodies the rest of the afternoon.”

I kept nodding my head.

“And you’re not to jump and dance around. Not like last time.”

Last time I had not been at my best. I had been listening to the radio quite intensely the week before and worked out an elaborate dance I had insisted on demonstrating for my father and his friends. My father was not impressed, but it hadn’t mattered. I was captivated by the sound of my feet on the wooden slats of the pier, mixed with the echo from the waves washing up on shore and that had been more than enough excitement to fill my mind to near bursting, leaving little room for his lecture on proper behaviour.

“Keep out of the way,” he said. “And be quiet.”

This last instruction was the most important.

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The Change Room

The Change Room

edition:Paperback

Happily married, great career, mother of two. What more could a woman possibly want? Enter The Change Room, by award-winning writer Karen Connelly, and find out.

Eliza Keenan is the mother of two young sons, the owner of a flower studio that caters to the city's elite, and the loving wife of a deliciously rumpled math professor named Andrew. She's on the move from dawn until her boys are in bed, and after they're asleep she cleans her house. Her one complaint about her life is that the only time …

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Excerpt

Sometimes she felt desperate for it.

After she dropped the boys off, she hurried along the icy street, afraid of slipping. A few other parents, late getting their kids to school, waved in her direction. They were also in a rush, no one could stop and chat. Thank god. I have forty-five minutes, she thought, and picked up her pace.

The intensity of her own need was unfamiliar. Not need. She didn’t need anything. That was for children. And Andrew. She wanted. It’s desire, she thought. One foot skated forward unexpectedly on the ice; her arm shot out as she caught herself. Resettling her heavy bag on her shoulder, she felt a twinge there, the old ache. Torn ligaments, years ago in Greece. One serious surgery when she returned. The sidewalks were treacherous, the roads worse. Accidents were already happening today, across the city, on the highways. She’d asked Andrew to leave the car at home, but he said, Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.

She had not thought of that word for a thousand years. Desire. Who had the time for it? De sideris. She’d taken two years of Latin at university, four of ancient Greek, the brilliant, useless languages. Dead, like the stars. “Desire” came from the Latin root de sideris. Meaning of the stars.

She had started to swim a year ago, when the boys were five and six, and she was in the floral studio again every day, working long hours. Her work was complicated, busy, mostly satisfying. She would never tire of flowers, though the people who bought them sometimes drove her crazy. Clients came to the studio as though to a therapist’s office, upset about their daughter’s choice of husband, worried about aging, or anxious about money, and good style. Human weirdness was part of the boutique flower gig. Her business partner, Kiki, often said that because flowers came from the natural world, they brought out the animal in people. Eliza loved the flowers first and foremost, but she also loved the crazed tap-dance of running a business that sold something as ephemeral and as unnecessary as flowers. Beauty, that’s what she sold, beauty’s ancient promises, too—this is true, this will be good—especially from May to October, when she and various wedding planners worked together to create lovely, personal, idyllic, glorious, increasingly lavish weddings. Approaching the city’s three top wedding planners had been her idea, and an excellent one. The clients who came through them were the wealthiest people she had ever met in her life. They could afford truth and beauty.

Eliza worked hard to give it to them, every day. Though she relished hard work, the pace had grown relentless since she’d had kids. The list of things to do constantly replenished itself. One after the other, she shot down the tasks, yet still they rose up and came at her (like zombies, naturally; her boys loved zombies). If it wasn’t the main sink clogging at the studio, it was the flooding basement at home, or a sick child, or a bossy client. In the past couple of months, it had been Kiki, in a romantic funk, whining about her loneliness and threatening, vaguely, to return to Montreal to find a real man. Wanting to be one of the “good” mothers, Eliza had even volunteered for school council. Now some disorganized flake of a woman called her every week, begging her to do yet another school-related task. Andrew never seemed to work himself into the same frenzied pitch. Was it because he was attached to an institution? Was it because he was a man, and didn’t know how to wash the floor?

She felt alone in her exhaustion, but she knew that she was not alone. She was one of millions of women working their brains out and their asses off. She had no right to complain, sitting as she was at the top of the pyramid: white skin, warm house, healthy kids, a loving husband. Some days, usually on the weekends when she read the newspapers, she felt her luck swell and stick in her throat. She swallowed it down with clean water, queasy, stomach churning, her eyes open, eating up the articles, the reports, the photographs in the world section. People stood at the flooded, burning heart of the world, howling kids in their arms, or dead on the ground. Bombs fell, the plague spread, the refugees fled, and fled, and fled. And always, always, there were women trapped somewhere, in rape camps, raped lives.

Eliza was free. She said it out loud sometimes, in the midst of whining about all she had to do. This is freedom! Two times a year, she got melodramatically sick; her body knew that only illness would bring real rest. Last year, sitting on the examining table, she’d said to the doctor, “It’s just my cold, finally breaking up.” The doctor had lifted her eyes from her cool stethoscope on Eliza’s hot chest, and responded, “Actually, it’s just your pneumonia, settling in.” Even while the kids were babies and toddlers, she had worked; maternity leave did not exist for the self-employed. Years passed, as they do, with at least one breast and half her mind attached to her babies. Now Marcus and Jake were big boys going to school. She still felt the elastic delight of being out of the house full-time.Thumping their hips, her friends would say, The baby weight is disappearing. My body’s coming back. A lie. It never came back, the body before children, the old life. She knew the truth: love cleaves you right through the middle. She would never be closed again. Never again, singular. She was divided in three by husband and sons. No, she was divided in four, because of the house, an old Victorian four-storey, always clamouring for attention. They had renovated it slowly, room by money-sucking room. The house belonged to both of them, but she was the one who took care of it like the housekeeper out of an old English novel, right down to the keys, the platters, the good cutlery, the power tools, pliers and paint cans. To say nothing about keeping the place clean.

Which reminded her of that shelf in the fridge, covered in some sticky, gelatinous substance. She shook her head and stepped over a gleaming artery of ice. This was it, this gift of an hour on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, she must not think about the fridge. The water whispered: you are not as divided as you feel. Her skin was still complete, despite the cuts, broken glassware at work, a slip of a new pruning knife, her heel punctured by that nail during the flood cleanup in the basement last spring, even the way she tore—twice—with the births. The wounds closed. She floated.Someone was out on the sidewalk breaking up the terrible ice in front of St. Anne’s Community Centre, referred to by those in the know as Annie’s. She liked the name; St. Anne was the patron saint of families. It was a solid place, built in the sixties, nothing fancy, no big glass window or state-of-the-art equipment, just a squat two-storey building at the edge of the park, operated by well-organized people who took good care of children. When the boys had been little, the daycare had saved her life.

She pushed through the first door, then the next. Tina at the front desk stamped her pass with a wink—she was busy on the phone. Eliza hardly slackened her pace down the hallway as she detoured around the mother who was down on her knees in front of her crying two-year-old. The change room door was yellow; she went through it into the warm, chlorinated air, and immediately felt better. Echoing voices drifted in from the pool, the lifeguards talking loudly across the water. And water falling: someone was taking a shower. Maybe it was Sheila, her neighbour. Just as she looked toward the shower area, her good friend Janet came out from behind the tiled wall, and said, “Hi there! I was wondering if you were going to make it today.” Janet had a towel around her voluptuous body—she claimed that her breasts simply never stopped growing—and another wrapping up her curly dark-brown hair.

Eliza hung her coat and bag on a hook. “It’s always a panic in the morning, but I will not give up my swimming! How are you?”

“Sophie is driving me bonkers, otherwise I’m fine.”

Eliza made sympathetic noises as she pulled her sweater over her head. Sophie was Janet’s increasingly argumentative teenage daughter. Another regular swimmer came from the showers into the change room, smiling nearsightedly. Annoying woman, with a perpetually sore neck. She always talked about her son in Vancouver, how much money he was making, tearing down old houses, ripping around the city in his fancy car. Who cares, Janet would say after the woman had left. Who cares about a damn Porsche?

Eliza was in her bathing suit already, keen to get in the water; it was only a half an hour before the toddler swim classes would arrive from the daycare. Sheila was in the shower room, a petite woman with what Eliza’s mother would call “a lovely figure”—and the only mother who swam in her bikini, which added to the impression that she was about twenty-five. But she was older than Eliza. The women greeted each other; Eliza glanced surreptitiously at the hourglass curve of Sheila’s waist. The deep brown skin was almost unlined. Sheila said, “Watch out, the showers are cold again today.”

Eliza stepped into the cool spray. “Brr!” She showered quickly and called out her goodbyes, then slipped through the last door.

Beyond the pool, the long eastern wall was painted in cartoon style with bright tropical fish, a diver, a red-haired mermaid peeking through seaweed. Above the mural, graffiti letters bulged: St. Anne’s Is a Good Place to Be. Only one other swimmer was in the water, finishing a length at a fast clip. Eliza was pleased that she wouldn’t have to vie for a clear lane.

She sat down and licked the insides of her goggles, embarrassed by her tongue sliding over the plastic lenses; saliva kept them from fogging up. The bored young lifeguards seemed always to catch her doing this; today was no exception. She waved at the one sitting across the pool in his raised chair and fit the goggles over her eyes. Blue lenses made the water bluer. She lifted her whole weight up with her arms and dropped herself straight off the edge of the pool.

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Turning

Turning

A Year in the Water
edition:Paperback

Longlisted for the 2018 Frank Hegyi Award for Emerging Authors
Through the heat of summer to the frozen depths of winter, Lee traces her journey swimming through 52 lakes in a single year, swimming through fear and heartbreak to find her place in the world
Jessica J. Lee swims through all four seasons and especially loves the winter. "I long for the ice. The sharp cut of freezing water on my feet. The immeasurable black of the lake at its coldest. Swimming then means cold, and pain, and elation …

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Excerpt

A swimmer can sense the turning of the lake. There’s a moment in the season when the water changes. It isn’t something you can see, it’s something you can feel. In spring, the winter ice melts, and the warm and cold of the lake intermingle, flowing together. In summer, as the lake grows warm, a green froth of algae caps the surface of the water, and when it cools again in autumn, the green disappears. The air thins. The leaves flash red and gold. And the water ‘turns’.
     You come to know the  consistent  cool  of  spring  and the stagnant warmth at the top of a summer lake. When the water clears in the autumn, you can feel it: the lake feels cleaner on your arms, less like velvet and more like cut glass. And then winter comes, sharper than ever. Swimming year-round means greeting the lake’s changes.
     There is an English expression for the lake’s changes: the ‘breaking of the meres’. It describes the point in late summer  when  shallow  lakes  –  meres  –  turn  a  turbid blue-green, algae breaking atop the surface like yeast froths on beer. The Germans also have a word for the green of summer: umkippen. It describes the point when the water has turned to slick green, fizzling with iridescent algae.
     But the breaking of the meres and umkippen capture only that single moment of algal rupture, the death of the lake from too much algae and too little oxygen. We tend to notice the obvious thing – the emerging sheen of an algal bloom – and reduce a word’s meaning to that tiny moment, that fleck of green on the surface.
     The lake’s turning – ‘lake stratification’ and ‘overturn’ – runs deeper, taking in an entire year’s worth of changes in the water. Turning is perpetual. It points to the wider transformations in the water, as layers below billow and rearrange themselves beneath the surface. Even in winter, the lake is alive beneath the ice.
     I long for the ice. The sharp cut of freezing water on my feet. The immeasurable black of the lake at its coldest. Swimming then means cold, and pain, and elation.
 
 
When I was twenty-eight, almost as if by accident, I was sent to Berlin on a five-month research placement. I moved into a second-floor Altbau flat, one of the crumbling, enormous apartments that looks straight out of a Stasi spy drama. And from this old place with an old cellar that had once been used for escape tunnels, I set out into a world of pine and silken water, of craggy cobbles and peeling paint.
     Berlin resembled the other places I’ve called home – Canada, Britain – but only in glimpses: in the way the skeletal pines would edge the lake, in how the old stones would grow thick with moss. Pain, brightness, loss and renewal were layered in the landscape: in the lush shade of Tiergarten, which in my grandfather’s days was barren, razed and desperately carved up for allotments, and in the crooked edges of concrete that had slowly been dismantled as kids my age grew up. I was three when the Berlin Wall came down. I don’t remember it, but I came to know it in my own way.
     The footprint of the Wall was turned into a hiking trail. Pavements stopped you in your tracks, Stolpersteine, brass stumbling stones marking the lost. Roads radiated out like a dial, a stretched palm pressed on to the city. I thought the roads here had to be so wide, if only to hold the ghosts.
     Half a year later, as I was retreating from the deep end of depression, I surfaced with the bizarre notion that the solution to my problems lay in swimming. I felt furious that I had succumbed to the dark vacancy of my moods, as though it were my fault. My heart was broken. Above all, I thought that swimming might help me find some new place in the world in a year in which I’d changed address five times. A place in a city that wasn’t mine, and that held layered in its streets a century of change and grief, ghosts in the landscape. Naively, perhaps, I believed that if I could find that place in the middle of the lake where every feeling slipped away, I might undo the hurt.
     I’d moved again – this time into a stark white room with ceilings thrice my height – but spent only a few moments unpacking and settling in before turning my eyes to the map. The city at its centre, cut through by a fan of broad avenues and the rivers, the sudden countryside at its edges. Hundreds of spots of blue multiplied exponentially as the city lines crept into the surrounding land. These lakes and rivers – their intricate weave of water laid on to the flat North German Plain by retreating glaciers in the last ice age – had worked a tiny hook into my heart, and I could do nothing for it but swim.
     Perhaps it was a drastic response. In depression, I had become someone I hadn’t wanted to be, emptied and hardened. I felt that I had to respond to it in kind, as if lake water might blast away my sadness and fear. So I decided to swim for a year, in the hope of finding some reserve of joy and courage in myself. It was a means of greeting the ghosts – mine and others – as they appeared around unknown corners. I knew there was no untouched landscape here: there is hurt that cannot be undone. I wanted to find a way to negotiate it, to live with it.
     Of all the lakes near to the city, I planned to swim in fifty-two, a whole year’s worth, stretching my swims out through each season. Prone to rules, I kept the parameters simple: no cars, no wetsuits. I could take friends from time to time. My daily life would continue as normal. I was in the final year of my doctorate, finalising and refining a dissertation in environmental history. I was living an ocean away from family and home. There was pressure to hold things together. Swimming would be a way of staying with my fears, a way of staying in place. Above all, I sought to find some balance in it.
     The summer in Berlin began coolly and then arrived fully formed, hot. Bright swathes of sunlight stretched over the cobbles, and the sky painted itself cornflower blue. The temperature rose and the air thickened only slightly as a hot, dry June settled on the city.
     I looked at the map, traced my fingers over the lakes I knew – Krumme Lanke, Weißer See, Liepnitzsee, Bötzsee, Mühlenbecker See – and decided, as if by habit, to start at the beginning. Krumme Lanke, my first German lake.

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The Big Swim

The Big Swim

Coming Ashore in a World Adrift
edition:Paperback

The Big Swim puts forward the idea that personal growth arises from facing both inner tensions and threats to the biosphere. In a collection of stories that is frequently touching, surprisingly funny and always thought-provoking, author Carrie Saxifrage seeks out the places where science meets self-discovery, inviting us to join her as she:

  • Learns the art of appreciation from an ancient jawbone
  • Hikes solo through the wilderness to find balance in a field of blueberries
  • Swims for four hours t …
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Swimming, Swimming

Swimming, Swimming

illustrated by Gary Clement
edition:eBook
also available: Hardcover

Drawing on his own memories of the best days of summer in the city, Gary Clement brings us an illustrated version of the beloved classic “Swimming, swimming in a swimming pool,” full of fun and humor.

The illustrations show a young boy and his friends spending a carefree day at the neighborhood pool. We see them walk to the pool together, change into their trunks and then spend hours swimming, cavorting, splashing and diving. The pool is full of moms, dads, other kids and babies, all enjoyin …

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Swim

Swim

edition:eBook
also available: Paperback
tagged : biographical

Breathe on four. Define your terms. What is this desire?

Attuned to a body in motion, Swim pulls the reader beneath the logic of prose, into the eroticism of language itself. The arcing rhythm of a body breathing - a woman marking her birth as she swims in a pool - sustains the unique and hypnotic language that becomes the medium through which this story moves.

Swim entwines the present with those past actions and consequences that have brought Kat to the Greek mountain village where her father wa …

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The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore

The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore

Open and Degrees of Nakedness
by Lisa Moore
introduction by Jane Urquhart
edition:eBook
also available: Paperback

Lisa Moore's stories are bright, emotionally engaging, tangible. She marks out the precious moments of her characters' lives against deceptively commonplace backdrops — a St. John's hospital cafeteria lit only by the lights in the snack machines; a half-built house "like a rib cage around a lungful of sky" -- and the results linger long in the memory. The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore shows us that love, alongside desire, can sometimes come as a surprise, sometimes an ambush. She splice …

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