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Why We Swim

This virtual discussion took place on December 22 with host Leanne Shapton, author of Swimming Studies, and panelists Anna Weber and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Anna Weber works for the Natural Resources Defense Council focusing on the intersection of water and climate change, including flood protection and coastal resilience. Lidia Yuknavitch is a bestselling novelist of six books including the widely acclaimed memoir The Chronology of Water.

Why We Swim

Humans, unlike other animals that are drawn to water, are not natural-born swimmers. We must be taught. Our evolutionary ancestors learned for survival; now in the 21st century we swim in freezing Arctic waters and piranha‑infested rivers to test our limits. Swimming is an introspective and silent sport in a chaotic and noisy age, it’s therapeutic for both the mind and body, and it’s an adventurous way to get from point A to point B. It’s also one route to that elusive, ecstatic state of flow. These reasons, among many others, make swimming one of the most popular activities in the world.

Why We Swim is propelled by stories of Olympic champions, a Baghdad swim club that meets in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern‑day Japanese samurai swimmers, even an Icelandic fisherman who improbably survives a wintry six‑hour swim after a shipwreck. New York Times contributor Bonnie Tsui, a swimmer herself, dives into the deep from the San Francisco Bay to the South China Sea, investigating what seduces us to water, despite its dangers, and why we come back to it again and again. She offers an immersive, unforgettable, and eye-opening perspective on swimming—and of human behavior itself. From Algonquin Books, April 2020.

Praise for Why We Swim

A Best Book of the Season: BuzzFeed, Bustle, and San Francisco Chronicle

“an enthusiastic and thoughtful work mixing history, journalism and elements of memoir…glorious.”The New York Times

A fascinating and beautifully written love letter to water. I was enchanted by this book.” —Rebecca Skloot, bestselling author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

Bonnie Tsui is a longtime contributor to The New York Times and the author of AMERICAN CHINATOWN, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller that won the 2010 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature. Her new book, WHY WE SWIM, was published in April 2020; it was a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, a TIME Magazine Must-Read Book of 2020, an NPR Best Book of 2020, and a Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe bestseller. Her first children’s book, SARAH & THE BIG WAVE, about the first woman to surf Mavericks, will be published in May 2021. She lives, swims, and surfs in the Bay Area.

Leanne Shapton is an author, artist and publisher based in New York City. She is the co-founder, with photographer Jason Fulford, of J&L Books, an internationally-distributed not-for-profit imprint specializing in art and photography books. Shapton is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. She grew up in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.

Shapton’s Swimming Studies won the 2012 National Book Critic’s Circle Award for autobiography, and was long listed for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year 2012. Shapton is represented by The Wylie Agency. From

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