Six Stories About the Swimming Pool

I don’t know where you live, but where I live, it’s 97 degrees on a Friday in June. After a brutal winter, I try to remember this is what I longed for. My commute home liquidates. Drips slide down my spine, disappearing into the waist of my government-approved pencil skirt. Yesterday, I couldn’t take it: I wore shorts. I’m yearning for my grandparents’ swimming pool; its strange shape and dense vegetation are different from the community pools I frequented as a child. Theirs is utterly private, difficult to maintain, and very, very cold. Ready to grab your towel? Take a dip in these six stories about swimming pools.

1. “Who Gets to Go to the Pool?” (Brit Bennett, New York Times, June 2015)

Oasis or battleground? Swimming pools have long been sites of racial tension in the United States–this month, a police officer pulled a gun on a black, unarmed, bikini-clad young woman after she was attacked (physically and verbally) by white poolgoers.

2. “Woman Overboard: How Swimming in a Rooftop Pool Saved Me From Addiction.” (Susan Shapiro, The Observer, July 2014)

Susan Shapiro traded unhealthy habits for a new obsession: swimming laps atop her apartment building. Her fondness for exercise accidentally landed her in physical therapy, where she learned the importance of pacing herself.

3. “Size.” (Leanne Shapton, The Paris Review, July 2012)

Two summers ago, I read and loved Swimming Studies, Leanne Shapton’s memoir of her life in pools. Beautiful meditations on training for the Olympic trials as a teen and descriptions of swimming pools all over the world accompany photos of bathing suits and miniature paintings. What better to read poolside? Here, the Paris Review excerpts Shapton’s book.

4. “The Wet Stuff: Jeff Henry, Verrückt, and the Men Who Built the Great American Water Park.” (Bryan Curtis, Grantland, September 2014)

A water park is a swimming pool on steroids, right? Grantland introduces you to Jeff Henry, the Steve Jobs of water parks. (Henry’s latest ride is called “Verrückt”–that’s “insane,” in German. It’s over 17 stories tall; it’s the tallest water slide in the world.)

5. “The Purest Form of Play.” (Miranda Ward, Vela, April 2013)

This award-winning essay is a favorite of Vela editor Sarah Menkedick: “[It’s] one of those pieces I return to when I start to feel cynical and burnt out.” Maybe the summer heat is getting to you, too. Maybe someone pooped in your metaphorical (or literal) pool. Ward’s essay moved and encouraged me, too. It’s about perseverance and acceptance, in or out of the pool.

6. “Too Fat to Swim.” (Ragini Nag Rao, Rookie, October 2014)

I was 18 the first time I swam. I took a step into a sectioned-off part of Calcutta’s biggest lake, and I was scared. Ragini dreamed of performing daring athletic feats and reveled in basketball and cricket. But her size, self-consciousness and the taunts of her family held her back from embracing her true self. After years of struggling with an eating disorder, she shakes off the haters and plunges into the depths of self-love.