‘Why We Swim’ by Bonnie Tsui is July’s book club read

Journalist Bonnie Tsui is the author of "Why We Swim."
(Lynsay Skiba / Algonquin Books)

The Los Angeles Times Book Club’s next read is Bonnie Tsui’s “Why We Swim,” a blend of memoir, history and swim adventure from the California Coast to Iceland to the South China Sea.

A Bay Area surfer and former competitive swimmer, Tsui often writes for California Sunday Magazine and the New York Times. She’ll join book club readers on July 28 for a virtual meetup about her new book.

“Why We Swim” starts with the author’s childhood memories of bobbing along the edge of the Atlantic with her brother and cousins. “We use our arms as rudders to pilot us along the face of a wave as it breaks, depositing us at the foamy intersection where water meets sand. Get up, laugh, repeat.


“We are mesmerized by that heaving body of water,” she writes. “So is everybody else.”

Tsui goes on to explore the broader history of what draws us to water and the ways swimming heals, challenges and, at times, terrifies us, featuring a cast of swim survivors, champions and record breakers. These include Lynne Cox, the legendary Los Alamitos distance swimmer who braved the frigid Bering Strait and the coastal waters of Antarctica. Readers also meet a Baghdad swim club that works out in Saddam Hussein’s palace pool, modern-day Japanese samurai swimmers and those who take on the Oceans Seven, a marathon challenge that includes the Catalina channel and six other tough swims around the globe.

Swimming, Tsui notes, is the second most popular form of recreation in the United States, second only to walking.
“Sometimes swimming is a wormhole through which to escape the grinding machinery of everyday life,” Tsui writes in an excerpt. ”I get in a lake and swim away, as far as I can....

In ‘Why We Swim,’ Bonnie Tsui tells extraordinary tales of swimmers who brave sharks, extreme cold and vicious currents around the globe.

July 15, 2020

“I brew and brood over things that seem to be of consequence, but by the end of a swim, the water has washed much of that away. I come out with my mood and mental clarity improved by a minimum of 48 percent.”

Tsui’s previous books include “American Chinatown: A People’s History of Five Neighborhoods,” winner of the 2009-10 Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature.

She joins the L.A. Times Book Club at 7 p.m. on July 28 for a conversation with Times reporter James Rainey, a masters swimmer for 30 years with Southern California Aquatics (SCAQ) and more recently Rose Bowl Aquatics. Rainey regularly swims the ocean off Manhattan Beach and Santa Monica, and swam several miles of the Catalina Channel for a 2005 Times story.

The July book club meetup is free and will be livestreamed on the Los Angeles Times Facebook Page, YouTube and Twitter.


It’s been a year since the Los Angeles Times started a community book club. Every month the newspaper brings Times readers together to share the same book and then join a conversation with the author.

The book club launched on June 25, 2019, with Susan Orlean, bestselling author of “The Library Book,” about the mysterious fire that devastated L.A.’s Central Library. The most recent book club selection was “The Compton Cowboys” by Walter Thompson-Hernández, who joined Times readers for a June 24 virtual meetup.

For more information and the latest updates about upcoming book club events, sign up for the L.A. Times Book Club newsletter.