Swimming books recommended by SSC members

Lockdown special - If you can't swim, you can read!

As we all miss our dear Serpentine, a group of Serpentine members got together online on Saturday 11 April 2020 for a Zoom chat around the topic of swimming books. Though we listed a few usual suspects, many of the books were either old books now out of print or more obscure books that deserved a shout out. This is no carefully curated list but it is an informal selection of our favourite reads. Feel free to recommend other books so we can add them to the list.

#1 Breaking the Ice by Alan Titmuss

The "bible" of Serpentine books, this book was written by former president of the Serpentine Swimming Club Alan Titmuss to commemorate the centenary of the club, 1864 to 1964. Though the book is not in print currently, some members are lucky to have a copy at home. Surely one for the archives.

#2 Waterlog: A Swimmer's Journey Through Britain by Roger Deakin

Roger Deakin set out in 1996 to swim through the British Isles. The result a uniquely personal view of an island race and a people with a deep affinity for water. From the sea, from rock pools, from rivers and streams, tarns, lakes, lochs, ponds, lidos, swimming pools and spas, from fens, dykes, moats, aqueducts, waterfalls, flooded quarries, even canals, Deakin gains a fascinating perspective on modern Britain. Detained by water bailiffs in Winchester, intercepted in the Fowey estuary by coastguards, mistaken for a suicude on Camber sands, confronting the Corryvreckan whirlpool in the Hebrides, he discovers just how much of an outsider the native swimmer is to his landlocked, fully-dressed fellow citizens. Encompassing cultural history, autobiography, travel writing and natural history, Waterlog is a personal journey, a bold assertion of the native swimmer's right to roam, and an unforgettable celebration of the magic of water.

#3 Magic Beach by Alison Lester

'At our beach, at our magic beach', imagination abounds. Alison Lester's poetic text and accompanying detailed illustrations show the possibilities of turning a normal, everyday place into a magical one. Picture a beach where adventure begins... The intricately illustrated pages will have children exploring again and again the wonder of imagination. Also available in a cute and sparkly mini-edition, Magic Beach makes the perfect gift!

#4 I Found My Tribe by Ruth Fitzmaurice 

Ruth’s tribe are her lively children and her filmmaker husband, Simon, who has Motor Neurone Disease and can only communicate with his eyes. Ruth’s other ‘tribe’ are the friends who gather at the cove in Greystones, Co. Wicklow, and regularly throw themselves into the freezing cold water, just for kicks.

‘The Tragic Wives’ Swimming Club’, as they jokingly call themselves, meet to cope with the extreme challenges life puts in their way, not to mention the monster waves rolling over the horizon.

#5 Achieving The Impossible: A Fearless Hero. A Fragile Earth. by Lewis Pugh

In July 2007, Lewis Gordon Pugh became the first person to swim at the North Pole, in temperatures that would kill a normal person, primarily to raise awareness of climate change. Nicknamed 'the human polar bear' for his ability to raise his body temperature at will, he has pioneered swims in the world's most hostile waters, redefining what it is possible to achieve in terms of endurance. A former member of the SAS, Lewis tells his fantastic story here for the first time. Chapters cover his childhood, growing up with his 'hero' Surgeon Rear Admiral father, his early life in South Africa, his gruelling training in the army's elite regiment, his inspiration and, of course, plenty of action/adventure stories, chronicling his many nail-biting endurance swims. With practical lessons taken from his own life, Lewis explains how recognising one's passions and taking calculated risks is essential for anyone looking to fulfil their goals. The book will also cover his expedition kayaking to the North Pole in summer 2008 and preparing for his most dangerous swim yet - on Everest! - planned for May 2010. His story is inspiring, entertaining and thrilling in equal measure, and its 39-year-old author is a much-needed role model for our times.

#6 21 Miles by Jessica Hepburn

After a decade of trying and failing to become a mother, Jessica Hepburn (Serpentine member, woop woop!) knew it was time to do something different. So she decided to swim twenty-one miles across the English Channel no easy feat, especially for someone who couldn't swim very well. As the punishing training schedule commenced, Jessica learned you need to put on weight to stave off the cold. This gave her the idea to meet and eat with a collection of inspiring women, and ask them: does motherhood make you happy?

From baronesses and professors to award-winners and record-breakers, each of the women had compelling truths to tell about fulfilment and the meaning of motherhood.

#7 Wild Swimming Walks: 28 River, Lake and Seaside Days Out by Train from London (Wild Walks) by Margaret Dickinson

Join the famous swimming ladies of Hampstead on their favourite countryside walks across southern and eastern England. These wild swimming walks - all accessible by train - lead to secret lakes, river meadows and sandy seaside beaches. Wild Swimming Walks is the perfect guide for city escapes without the car this summer. With walks from a few miles to a full day out, this book is ideal for families and the more serious adventurer too. A beautiful retro-styled book, with original illustrations and scenic photographs, the book also includes detailed instructions, maps and intriguing anecdotes. Wild Swimming Walks will be treasured by nature lovers, ramblers and wild swimmers alike.

#8 Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer as Hero by Charles Sprawson

Haunts of the Black Masseur is a dazzling introduction to the great swimming heroes, from Byron leaping into the surf at Shelley's funeral to Hart Crane diving to his death in the Bay of Mexico. Bursting with anecdotes, Charles Sprawson leads us into a watery world populated by lithe demi-gods – a world that has obsessed humans from the ancient Greeks and Romans, to Yeats, Woolf, Fitzgerald and Hockney.

Original, enticing and dripping with references to literature, film, art and Olympic history, this cult swimming classic pays sparkling tribute to water and the cultural meanings we attach to it.

#9 The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Originally published in 1951, The Sea Around Us is one of the most influential books ever written about the natural world. Rachel Carson's ability to combine scientific insight with poetic prose catapulted her book to the top of The New York Times best-seller list, where it remained for more than a year and a half. Ultimately it sold well over a million copies, was translated into 28 languages, inspired an Academy Award-winning documentary, and won both the National Book Award and the John Burroughs Medal.

The Sea Around Us remains as fresh today as when it first appeared over six decades ago. Carson's genius for evoking the power and primacy of the world's bodies of water, combining the cosmic and the intimate, remains almost unmatched: the newly formed Earth cooling beneath an endlessly overcast sky; the centuries of nonstop rain that created the oceans; giant squids battling sperm whales hundreds of fathoms below the surface; the power of the tides moving 100 billion tons of water daily in one bay alone; the seismic waves known as tsunamis that periodically remind us of the oceans' overwhelmingly destructive power. The seas sustain human life and imperil it. Today, with the oceans endangered by the dumping of medical waste and ecological disasters such as the Exxon oil spill in Alaska, the gradual death of the Great Barrier Reef, and the melting of the polar ice caps, Carson's book provides a timely reminder of both the fragility and the centrality of the ocean and the life that abounds within it. Anyone who loves the sea, or who is concerned about our natural environment, will want to read, or re-read, this classic work.

#10 Strokes of Genius: A History of Swimming by Eric Chaline

'Pleasure beckons at the water's edge.' With these words, Eric Chaline celebrates the physicality and sensuality of swimming - attributes that might have contributed to the evolution of the human species. Chaline's comprehensive account surveys swimming from prehistory to the present day. He decodes the earliest human myths to reconstruct swimming's prehistory and history; he explains its role in religious rituals, trade and manufacture, warfare and medicine, and chronicles its transformation into the leisure activity and competitive sport that together have made it the most commonly practiced physical pastime in the developed world. Swimming is now a cultural marker that stands for eroticism, leisure, endurance, adventure, exploration and excellence, and latterly, like other disciplines that use repetitive movements to discipline the body and still the mind, it is held by wild swimmers to be a lane to spiritual awakening - one stroke at a time. There is no single story of human swimming, but many currents that merge, diverge and remerge towards a future in which our survival may depend on our ability to adapt to life in an aquatic world.

#11 Swimming to Antarctica: Tales of a Long-Distance Swimmer by Lynne Cox

Here is the acclaimed life story of a woman whose drive and determination inspire everyone she touches.
Lynne Cox started swimming almost as soon as she could walk. By age sixteen, she had broken all records for swimming the English Channel. Her daring eventually led her to the Bering Strait, where she swam five miles in thirty-eight-degree water in just a swimsuit, cap, and goggles. In between those accomplishments, she became the first to swim the Strait of Magellan, narrowly escaped a shark attack off the Cape of Good Hope, and was cheered across the twenty-mile Cook Strait of New Zealand by dolphins. She even swam a mile in the Antarctic. Lynne writes the same way she swims, with indefatigable spirit and joy, and shares the beauty of her time in the water with a poet's eye for detail. She has accomplished yet another feat--writing a new classic of sports memoir.

#12 RISING TIDE FALLING STAR by Philip Hoare

From the author of Leviathan, or, The Whale, comes a composite portrait of the subtle, beautiful, inspired and demented ways in which we have come to terms with our watery planet.

In the third of his watery books, the author goes in pursuit of human and animal stories of the sea. Of people enchanted or driven to despair by the water, accompanied by whales and birds and seals – familiar spirits swimming and flying with the author on his meandering odyssey from suburbia into the unknown.

Along the way, he encounters drowned poets and eccentric artists, modernist writers and era-defining performers, wild utopians and national heroes – famous or infamous, they are all surprisingly, and sometimes fatally, linked to the sea.

Out of the storm-clouds of the twenty-first century and our restive time, these stories reach back into the past and forward into the future. This is a shape-shifting world that has never been certain, caught between the natural and unnatural, where the state between human and animal is blurred. Time, space, gender and species become as fluid as the sea.

Here humans challenge their landbound lives through art or words or performance or myth, through the animal and the elemental. And here they are forever drawn back to the water, forever lost and found on the infinite sea.

Note: James Norton also recommends Leviathan and The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare, whose wonderful twitter account is @philipwhale.

#13 The Lido by Libby Page

Rosemary has lived in Brixton all her life, but everything she knows is changing. Only the local lido, where she swims every day, remains a constant reminder of the past and her beloved husband George.

Kate has just moved and feels adrift in a city that is too big for her. She's on the bottom rung of her career as a local journalist, and is determined to make something of it.

So when the lido is threatened with closure, Kate knows this story could be her chance to shine. But for Rosemary, it could be the end of everything. Together they are determined to make a stand, and to prove that the pool is more than just a place to swim - it is the heart of the community.

#14 Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fair Isle: A Celebration of the Islands Around Britain by Mathew Clayton

Beyond the British shores and straight out to sea lie the most exquisite islands, just waiting to be discovered. Little worlds, unique in their rugged and breath-taking geography, legends and folklore, scattered with ruins, wildlife and clues to their fascinating past, many remain untouched by the modern world.

Take a journey, take a leap, and discover lands you never knew. Explore Lundy, the perfect refuge for pirates and a cast of other ne’er-do-wells; St Kilda, the tiny island that was inhabited for over 2000 years but now lies abandoned; or Hy Brasil, a mirage that was featured on maps for centuries but never even existed.

In Lundy, Rockall, Dogger, Fair Isle, words and art are brought together to create a uniquely beautiful treasure - an illustrated celebration of the islands around Britain and their rare magic.

#15 Swell: A Waterbiography by Jenny Landreth

These days, swimming may seem like an egalitarian pastime, open to anyone with a swimsuit - but this wasn't always the case. In the 19th century, swimming was almost exclusively the domain of men. Women were (barely) allowed to swim in the sea, but even into the 20th century they could be arrested if they dared dive into a lake. It wasn't until the 1930s that women were reluctantly granted equal access. This is the story of the swimming suffragettes who made that possible; women who took on the status quo, and won.

Part social history, part memoir, Swell shines a light on these 'swimming suffragettes'. It celebrates some amazing achievements, some ridiculous outfits and some fantastic swimmers who challenge the stereotypes of what women are capable of. It's also the story of how Jenny eventually came to be a keen swimmer herself.

Swell is a joyful hymn to the sport and an exploration of why swimming attracts so many women. It is a book dedicated to our brilliant swimming foremothers who collectively made it possible for any woman to plunge in however and wherever we choose.

#16 Swimming London: London's 50 greatest swimming spots by Jenny Landreth

A Guide to London's greatest swimming venues from the Olympic Aquatic Centre to London s best kept secret swimming lidos.

London is a city built on water, and is built for swimmers. Whether it is the early morning bathers in the Serpentine, and the Christmas Day Club at Hampstead Heath, or the children jumping in and out of Tooting Lido, wherever you step in the city you are rarely more than a paddle away from someone swimming and somewhere to swim.

Swimming London is a guide, celebration and history of the swimming spots of London, both functioning and derelict, and will appeal to anyone who wants to swim there themselves, or learn about the people and peculiarities of those who take the water in one of the busiest cities in the world. It will also be a unique perspective on London since by going for a swim in all these places you will also get a full sense of London s architectural history, social history, natural history and human variety.

#17 Man vs Ocean - One Man's Journey to Swim The World's Toughest Oceans by Adam Walker

Adam Walker is not your everyday record-breaking sportsman. He took on arguably the toughest extreme sport on the planet to swim non-stop across seven of the world's deadliest oceans wearing only swim trunks, cap and goggles. It is not a test for the faint-hearted.

In 2007, Adam, then a toaster salesman, was inspired by a film about a man attempting to change his life by swimming the English Channel to try to emulate the feat. After a year of rigorous training without a coach, Adam achieved his goal in 11 hours 35 minutes, despite a ruptured bicep tendon leading to medical advice to give up long-distance swimming. In 2011, after two operations and a change to his swimming style to take pressure off his injured shoulder, he became the first Briton to achieve a two-way crossing from Spain to Morocco and back. In the process, he broke a British record.

Shortly afterwards, the Ocean's Seven challenge was born, a gruelling equivalent to the Seven Summits mountaineering challenge. At first it seemed that injury would prevent Adam from participating but, ignoring medical advice, he developed an innovative technique the Ocean Walker stroke that would enable him to continue with the ultimate aim of completing this seemingly impossible feat. Whether man would triumph over ocean, or fail in the attempt, forms the core of this extraordinary autobiography.

#18 This Girl Ran: Tales of a Party Girl Turned Triathlete by Helen Croydon

If you had told Helen two years ago that she would be getting up at 6 a.m. on Sundays to swim in a freezing reservoir and spending her Saturday nights unshowered and covered in mud in a pub, she would have spat out her champagne. But when everyone around you starts settling down, what else is a glamorous party girl to do but to launch herself into the world of endurance sport?

For someone who didn’t even own a pair of flat shoes (and definitely no waterproofs), Helen would soon find she had a lot to learn.

Join Helen on her hilarious and soul-searching journey as she swaps a life of cocktail bars and dating for the challenges and exhilaration of triathlons, trail runs, obstacle races, long-distance cycles and ocean swims… and sets herself the seemingly impossible goal of qualifying as a Team GB triathlete.

#19 In other words by Jhumpa Lahiri

In Other Words is a revelation. It is at heart a love story of a long and sometimes difficult courtship, and a passion that verges on obsession: that of a writer for another language. For Jhumpa Lahiri, that love was for Italian, which first captivated and capsized her during a trip to Florence after college. Although Lahiri studied Italian for many years afterwards, true mastery had always eluded her.

Seeking full immersion, she decided to move to Rome with her family, for 'a trial by fire, a sort of baptism' into a new language and world. There, she began to read and to write - initially in her journal - solely in Italian. In Other Words, an autobiographical work written in Italian, investigates the process of learning to express oneself in another language, and describes the journey of a writer seeking a new voice.

Presented in a dual-language format, this is a wholly original book about exile, linguistic and otherwise, written with an intensity and clarity not seen since Vladimir Nabokov: a startling act of self-reflection and a provocative exploration of belonging and reinvention.

#20 Wild Swimming by Elodie Harper

This is not a book. It's a short story that won the Stephen King short story competition in 2016. A reservoir in Lithuania leads wild swimmer Chrissie to some deep and very dark revelations, as she writes to her friend. You can read it online here.  

#21 The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

At the age of thirty, Amy Liptrot finds herself washed up back home on Orkney. Standing unstable on the island, she tries to come to terms with the addiction that has swallowed the last decade of her life. As she spends her mornings swimming in the bracingly cold sea, her days tracking Orkney's wildlife, and her nights searching the sky for the Merry Dancers, Amy discovers how the wild can restore life and renew hope.

#22 A Boy in the Water: A memoir by Tom Gregory

The poignant, life-affirming story of a determined boy, a visionary coach, and how the dream of a record-breaking Channel swim became reality.

Eltham, South London. 1984: the hot fug of the swimming pool and the slow splashing of a boy learning to swim but not yet wanting to take his foot off the bottom. Fast-forward four years. Photographers and family wait on the shingle beach as a boy in a bright orange hat and grease-smeared goggles swims the last few metres from France to England. He has been in the water for twelve agonizing hours, encouraged at each stroke by his coach, John Bullet, who has become a second father.

This is the story of a remarkable friendship between a coach and a boy, and a love letter to the intensity and freedom of childhood.

#23 Turning: A Swimming Memoir by Jessica E. Lee

'The water slips over me like cool silk. The intimacy of touch uninhibited, rising around my legs, over my waist, my breasts, up to my collarbone. When I throw back my head and relax, the lake runs into my ears. The sound of it is a muffled roar, the vibration of the body amplified by water, every sound felt as if in slow motion . . .' Summer swimming . . . but Jessica Lee - Canadian, Chinese and British - 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.'

At the age of twenty-eight, Jessica Lee, who grew up in Canada and lived in London, finds herself in Berlin. Alone. Lonely, with lowered spirits thanks to some family history and a broken heart, she is there, ostensibly, to write a thesis. And though that is what she does daily, what increasingly occupies her is swimming. So she makes a decision that she believes will win her back her confidence and independence: she will swim fifty-two of the lakes around Berlin, no matter what the weather or season. She is aware that this particular landscape is not without its own ghosts and history.

This is the story of a beautiful obsession: of the thrill of a still, turquoise lake, of cracking the ice before submerging, of floating under blue skies, of tangled weeds and murkiness, of cool, fresh, spring swimming - of facing past fears of near drowning and of breaking free.

When she completes her year of swimming Jessica finds she has new strength, and she has also found friends and has gained some understanding of how the landscape both haunts and holds us.

This book is for everyone who loves swimming, who wishes they could push themselves beyond caution, who understands the deep pleasure of using their body's strength, who knows what it is to allow oneself to abandon all thought and float home to the surface.

#24 Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens was a prelude to Peter Pan’s Adventures in Neverland. Published in 1906, the story follows Peter as an infant who learns he can no longer fly and ends up stranded in Kensington Gardens. Instead of navigating the Gardens on foot, Peter commissions a thrush’s nest that he can use as a boat to sail down The Serpentine towards his home. Peter finds a group of fairies near the water and though scared at first, they eventually agree to help him fly home to his mother.

In Peter Pan’s Adventures in Neverland ,when Peter Pan flies into the Darlings' room one dusky evening, he convinces Wendy and her brothers to come with him to the magical world of Neverland, where children never grow old. It's the beginning of an amazing adventure featuring a cast of classic characters, from the mischievous Lost Boys and jealous fairy Tinker Bell, to the villainous Captain Hook and his pirate band. But will the Darlings choose to stay in Neverland or return to London to grow up like normal children?

Novelist J.M. Barrie donated the first Peter Pan Cup to the Serpentine Swimming Club in 1904, the same year that his play Peter Pan made its debut on the London stage. Like the fictional boy who never grew up, the race has taken on a legendary appeal.

#25 The Story of Swimming by Susie Parr

In recent years, wild swimming - a movement that has inspired people to plunge into river, lake and sea in search of natural or challenging swimming experiences - has become extremely popular in Britain. But this phenomenon is only the latest episode in a long, fascinating and hitherto untold story. Passionate outdoor swimmer Susie Parr sets out to trace the social history of bathing in Britain, from the earliest references in Roman and Anglo Saxon literature to the decline of British seaside resorts and traditional bathing clubs in the late 20th century. 'The Story of Swimming 'reveals discoveries in medieval and Elizabethan literature and tells how medicinal sea-bathing flourished in the 18th century, leading to the rise of elegant watering places such as Brighton and Scarborough. The book examines the role of bathing in the Romantic Movement and in the works of a line of literary swimmers from Wordsworth to Iris Murdoch. It explores the political aspects of swimming too: when the masses descended on Victorian seaside resorts, class-based conflicts centred on bathing were played out on the beaches of Britain. Over the centuries, swimming has even reflected changing perceptions of the role of women. Each phase of this extraordinary story is captured in different swimming experiences across the British Isles, from Orkney to Tenby. Comprehensive and lavishly illustrated with woodcuts, engravings, cartoons, paintings and photographs (some by acclaimed photographer, Martin Parr), 'The Story of Swimming' is a must for everyone who enjoys bathing out of doors.

#26 Open Water Swimming by Steven Munatones

Swim faster, stronger and more efficiently! Whether you are a dedicated open water swimmer or a triathlete looking to conquer the sport's most challenging event, "Open Water Swimming" is your complete guide to improving your performance and decreasing your time. From the art of efficient pack swimming to the best dryland and pool workouts for improving endurance, strength and power, "Open Water Swimming" covers it all. Read it, refer to it and rely on it for improved results and faster times.

#27 Downstream by Caitlin Davies

Stretching 215 miles from its source in Gloucestershire, through England’s capital and across to the North Sea, the River Thames has always enticed swimmers.

From bathing kings to splashing school children, intrepid wild swimmers to international athletes, this famous river has long been a favourite.  But it was the Victorian era that saw the birth of organised river racing with the launch of the long distance amateur championship of Great Britain.

Soon floating baths were built in London; people swam at official bathing pools and islands at Oxford, Reading and Henley, dived off pontoons at Kingston and played at temporary lidos in Richmond. By the 1930s the Thames had become a top holiday spot for families with beaches at the Tower of London, Greenwich and Grays. Then in 1957 the river was declared biologically dead, organised racing was largely over, and swimming in the Thames was seen as dangerous.

Yet today we have returned to the river in numbers not seen for a long time, some drawn by the thrill of wild swimming, others to compete in annual racing events. Now Caitlin Davies recounts the history of swimmers and the Thames, telling the stories of legends like Annette Kellerman and Matthew Webb, forgotten champions such as Agnes Beckwith and Lily Smith, as well as modern day charity swimmers and sport stars.

Downstream explores the changing nature of swimmers’ relationship with the river, featuring previously unpublished archive images, and asks why it is that swimmers still love the Thames.

#28 The Great Swim by Gavin Mortimer

The dramatic story of the four courageous female swimmers who captivated the world in the summer of 1926.

Despite the tensions of a world still recovering from World War I, during the summer of 1926, the story that enthralled the public revolved around four young American swimmers—Gertrude Ederle, Mille Gade, Lillian Cannon, and Clarabelle Barrett—who battled the weather, each other, and considerable odds to become the first woman to conquer the brutal waters of the English Channel.

The popular East Coast tabloids from New York to Boston engaged in rivalries nearly as competitive as the swimmers themselves; each backed a favorite and made certain their girl—in bathing attire—was plastered across their daily editions. Just as Seabiscuit, the little horse with the big heart, would bring the nation to a near standstill when he battled his rival War Admiral in 1938, this quartet of women held the attention of millions of people on both sides of the Atlantic for an entire summer.

Gavin Mortimer uses primary sources, diaries, interviews with relatives, and contemporary reports to paint an unforgettable portrait of a competition that changed the way the world looked at women, both in sport and society. More than an underdog story, The Great Swim is a tale of perseverance, strength, and sheer force of will. A portrait of an era that is as evocative as Cinderella Man, this is a memorable story of America and Americans in the 1920s.

#29 The Crossing : The Glorious Tragedy of the First Man to Swim the English Channel by Kathy Watson

The author illuminates the life of Matthew Webb--the first man to swim the English channel--and explores the consequences of his resulting fame on his life.

#30 Swimming Free by Geoffrey Fraser Dutton

In 1972, Geoffrey Fraser Dutton published a book on wildwater snorkel swimming called Swimming Free: On and Below the Surface of Lake, River and Sea. It is a classic and Dutton was a pioneer who would swim around the west coast of Scotland and in rivers. A swimmer of Scotland's lochs and rivers, climber of its mountains, piper and forester, Geoffrey was, for 50 years, caretaker of nine acres of Perthshire rock, river, peat and pine where he created a wild garden. He was also a poet and mountaineer. Day job lectured at Dundee Uni. 

#31 Swimming Studies by Leanne Shapton

As a teenager, Shapton trained for the Olympic swimming trials; now an artist, she is still drawn inexorably to swimming, in pools and on beaches across the world. What do you with an all-absorbing activity once it's past its relevance, and yet you can't quite give it up? Is it possible to find a new purpose for its rigors and focus?

Swimming Studies is a meditative work that explores what it is like to move from a world of competition and discipline to one of recreation and introspection. Giving a fascinating glimpse into the private realms of swimming, and drawing, Shapton tells an intimate story of suburban adolescence, family ties, and the solitary underwater moments that now ground her artistic habits.

#32 Natural Health Service : What the Great Outdoors Can Do for Your Mind by Isabel Hardman

In 2016, Isabel Hardman (who is a Serpie)'s mind, in her own words, 'stopped working' as she fell prey to severe depression and anxiety. She took time off on long-term sick leave and despite several relapses has returned to work in much better health. She has since become one of the country's most prominent public voices on mental health issues.

She credits her recovery to her passion for exercise, nature and the great outdoors - from horse-riding and botany to cold-water swimming and running. In The Natural Health Service, she will draw on her own personal experience, interviews with mental illness sufferers and psychologists, and the latest research to examine what role wildlife and fresh air can play in helping anyone cope with mental illness. Straight-talking, thoroughly-researched, and compassionate, this important and often funny book will fascinate anyone touched by a mental health condition, whether themselves or through the experiences of a loved one.

#33 Searching for Swimming Pools with Charles Sprawson - Searching For Swimming Pools - BBC Sounds

Writer Charles Sprawson reflects on his life as he copes with advancing dementia. Charles Sprawson is the author of Haunts of the Black Masseur: The Swimmer As Hero - a romantic history of swimming and a memoir of his own adventures in water. Now 77, Charles has vascular dementia and lives in a retirement home. But even as he grows increasingly frail, he can still be found wandering the corridors looking for swimming pools, opening doors in the hope of finding shimmering water to plunge into. The programme is a portrait of lifelong obsession, the debilitating effects of dementia and the transformative power of swimming.

#34 The Last Wave by Gillian Best

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 is diagnosed with cancer; and it comforts her when her husband's mind begins to unravel. An intergenerational saga spanning six decades, The Last Wave is a wholly authentic portrait of a family buffeted by illness, intolerance, anger, failure, and regret. Gillian Best is a mature, accomplished, and compelling new voice in fiction.

#35 Daisy Belle - Swimming Champion of the World by Caitlin Davies

Summer 1867: four-year-old Daisy Belle is about to make her debut at the Lambeth Baths in London. Her father, swimming professor Jeffrey Belle, is introducing his Family of Frogs - and Daisy is the star attraction. By the end of that day, she has only one ambition in life: she will be the greatest female swimmer in the world.

She will race down the Thames, float in a whale tank, and challenge a man to a 70-foot high dive. And then she will set sail for America to swim across New York Harbour. 

But Victorian women weren't supposed to swim, and Daisy Belle will have to fight every stroke of the way if she wants her dreams to come true. 

Inspired by the careers of Victorian champions Agnes Beckwith and Annie Luker, Daisy Belle is a story of courage and survival and a tribute to the swimmers of yesteryear.