"I want my epitaph to testify that I have been a loving mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, and friend; and I have taught, written, and lived with joy."
— Penelope Niven
Praise for Swimming Lessons

Publishers Weekly

Biographer Niven uses her later-in-life swim training as a metaphor to structure this affectionate rulebook for living. "As I found myself middle-aged and simultaneously being outfitted with braces and bifocals," she writes, "it came to me that I had nothing to lose" by learning to swim. Starting from simply getting into the water—one can jump in feet first, dive headlong or tentatively slide in, she notes&msash;and moving on to floating, swim strokes and, finally, swimming alone and in the ocean, the author discovered that modern life and swimming hold parallel lessons. Nivens interweaves her newfound wisdom with words from her favorite writers and biographical subjects (Carl Sandburg, Thorton Wilder), her upbringing in tiny Waxhaw, North Carolina, and her subsequent years as a wife, mother, divorce and writer who only signed her first book contract in her 40s. Since overcoming her anxieties about water led her to simultaneously dive into her dream of writing, she includes intriguing writing prompts following each chapter. Many of her anecdotes are enjoyable reading, such as her parents' hospital bed feud over whether to be cremated or buried, or Aunt Geneva Walkup Rone's belief in a world map that contains only four places: "Heaven. Hell. Waxhaw. And Off Somewhere." The book, like Niven's preferred backstroke, "forces the vision upward" and will inspire readers.


This inspirational collection of musings draws significant parallels between learning to swim and facing a variety of challenging life situations. Learning to swim at age 44, Niven was immediately struck by the "profound life lessons embodied in the principles of swimming." Initially getting into the water is akin to undertaking any new endeavor, from a new job to a new marriage; learning to float in the water is as necessary and fulfilling as learning to open yourself up to joy, trust, and hope. As she explores the inherent similarities between life and swimming, she offers some practical self-help tips for those struggling to navigate the often-turbulent waters of everyday life. This delightfully original primer is recommended for those attempting to tread water both in and out of the pool.