Friday, September 29, 2017

Dryland: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety

When I was younger, I loved to swim, and although I never became a competitive swimmer, I was a pretty fast swimmer.  Fortunately, when I was in fifth grade we moved to an apartment building in Manhattan that had a pool, and we'd go into the pool a lot during the summers. When I was first learning how to swim, one of my sisters told me not to go into the deep end of the pool, which was 8' deep.  I didn't listen to her.  I quickly learned the different swimming strokes, and my parents used to call me a fish, because I loved to stay in the water for hours. I was interested in this book because even though I don't swim as much anymore, I remember those days at the pool and still love the water.  And although I'm a (very) moderate drinker, I was also interested in learning about a swim to sobriety.

"My identity changed with each new landscape."
~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw,  Dryland
Nancy Stearns Bercaw

Swimming, drinking, and traveling are three main subjects in the 2017 memoir Dryland: One Woman's Swim to Sobriety by writer Nancy Stearns Bercaw, a national champion swimmer, and seventeen-time NCAA All-American Athlete.  Nancy lived in many different countries--countries of extremes in terms of the weather and in terms of the culture--which suited her strong and adventurous personality.  In this memoir, Nancy talks about her devotion to swimming, which led her to the Olympic Trials in 1988, about her family, about her travel to different countries, about her love relationships, about her friendships, and about the role alcohol played in her life.  There's also a murder mystery in this book (in this regard, sadly, this is non-fiction).

"I've been going to one end of a pool, or overseas location, and coming back again, for my whole life.  Perhaps my existence should be characterized as a series of laps, instead of years." 
~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw, Dryland 

First of all, I think that the title of this memoir is perfect.  It refers to the desert, which is of course literally the dry land where Nancy lived, it refers to the absence of alcohol, and it also refers to something mentioned in the book, dryland training for swimmers, special exercises performed out of the water that help swimmers become stronger.  Chapter headings in Dryland include dates and are named after various bodies of water---a fitting and helpful touch.


I listened to an audio book version of Dryland, read by Donna Postel, who does an excellent job playing Nancy.  Her voice is clear and refined, and it was a pleasure to listen to this book (I had to remind myself a few times that she was not the author reading her story aloud.)  This memoir is set in several countries that the author lived in and traveled to, including Kenya, Abu Dhabi, and South Korea, as well as the United States.  Through the author's vivid descriptions, I could picture these locations. The settings in this book are an integral part of this memoir.

"Like an infant, I was learning how to put myself to sleep without a bottle." ~ Nancy Stearns Bercaw, Dryland

Alcohol is featured heavily in this memoir.  It was a big part of Nancy's life for a long time, even in countries where alcohol was prohibited (especially for women).  She believes that Abu Dhabi saved her life, and says that "a country of non-drinkers exposed the depths of my addiction to alcohol".  After almost thirty years of excessive drinking, Nancy acknowledges that alcohol is ruining her health, and decides to change her life.  Somewhat surprisingly, she also soon realizes that alcohol actually increases her anxiety at times, an important realization that helps her to stay sober. Through determination, she's able to stop drinking and maintain sobriety while living with her husband and son in arid Abu Dhabi (this shouldn't be considered a spoiler as the title of the memoir already indicates this).

Dryland is a courageously candid memoir. The details of her personal story are genuinely interesting, intelligent, inspiring, and beautifully expressed.  It's absolutely wonderful that she's able to give up her addiction to  alcohol! My favorite CD is the sixth one, the last one (which I'm currently listening to again) because it's  positive and triumphant.  It's also quite funny and amusing in parts--especially regarding Iceland.  I learned a few things about octopuses ;)  I enjoyed listening to the entire audio book of Dryland, in my car during my short commutes around town.  (This is how I listen to audio books.  I know others listen while they garden or walk or knit or cook or do chores around the house, but for me, I only listen to audio books when I drive solo.  It's my special private time with a book, and I enjoy being read to.)

Dryland is a magnificent, memorable memoir that's truly worth reading or listening to.  Recently I saw the touching movie, The Glass Castle, which is based on Jeannette Walls' remarkable  memoir.  I think that Dryland would also make an incredible movie that would highlight Nancy's swimming, drinking, and travel to many distinct and beautiful countries.  It would be outstanding.


Special thanks to Trish from TLC for inviting me on this tour and for accommodating my request for an "old-school" audio book version of this memoir on CDs.  For more reviews and features, please visit the other stops on TLC's book tour for Dryland.

Thank you for reading!  Your comments are welcomed.

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