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.

23 comments:

  1. I love memoirs like this and applaud authors like Bercaw for sharing her story. I'm adding Dryland to my wishlist.

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    1. I think you will enjoy it, Kathy. Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Sounds good, and very inspirational for someone battling an addiction. I too loved to swim as a child, and want to start again when we move.

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    1. Swimming is so wonderful. Enjoy your weekend, Vicki!

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  3. Hi Suko,

    Leaving aside the fact that I don't generally read memoirs, the premise of this book fills me with dread, as neither myself nor my brother ever learned to swim and we are both petrified of the water.

    I suspect that this was a belief instilled in us by our mother, who had much the same fears, although my brother made certain of breaking the cycle, by insisting that both of his daughters learned to swim and were encouraged to take part in competitions to improve their speed and stamina. Since then, they have never looked back, although one of them swims with speed at the forefront of her mind, whilst the other concentrates on her stamina and strength!

    Sorry if the comments went a little off track, but it has been great to chat :)

    Yvonne

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    1. Yvonne, thank you for sharing your story. My parents were not swimmers, so I think they were surprised that I learned to swim simply by going into the pool, and watching others.

      Enjoy your weekend!

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  4. This sounds good. Addiction can be such a terrible thing. It is interesting that living in a place where alcohol is illegal actually helped the author. I guess that prohibition does work sometimes.

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    1. Brian Joseph, thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment. Have a great weekend!

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  5. This sounds like a wonderful book. I pretty much never drink, partially as I had alcoholic grandparents on both sides. I used to swim daily but gave it up, just got lazy. This sounds like a very worthwhile memoir. I am reading Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano now, a truly alcohol fixed book.

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    1. Mel, I'm not familiar with Malcolm Lowry’s Under The Volcano, so I will look it up. Thank you for stopping by!

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  6. This sounds like a really good book. Thanks for the review.

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  8. This sounds like a good memoir. Thanks for sharing. I'm a strong swimmer but not a fast one. I'm grateful my parents signed me and my siblings up for lessons as children. I've never feared water because of that.

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  9. Dryland sounds like a touching and inspiring memoir. Thanks for sharing your views about this book.

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  10. What an intriguing sounding memoir! Sounds well worth the read!

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  11. I always wonder why memoirs in audiobook format aren't read by the author? I always think about that. I'm fairly new to audiobooks, but the few I've listened to I've really enjoyed.

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  12. I like memoirs that are inspirational and this one sounds like such a memoir. Sounds like it is good reading for any sort of addiction too.

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  13. Whilst I can see why you and others would be interested in this book, alas it isn't one for me as for a memoir to work for me I have to have a knowledge/interest in the person or subject.

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  14. This sounds like a fascinating memoir and intriguing audiobook. I'm always looking for a good audiobook. I also love your childhood story of your love of swimming!

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  15. Dryland sounds like a brave memoir Susan and I'm glad you enjoyed it. I need to listen to audio books on my work commute, which is around 45 minutes every morning.

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  16. I love a good memoir and really don't read enough of them. I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed this one so much. Great review!

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  17. I don't read very many of these kinds of book, I will keep an eye out for this one. Who doesn't or hasn't been touched by alcohol addiction xxx

    Lainy http://www.alwaysreading.net

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