There is a certain art to being a good aunt — one that I've been trying to perfect since the day my first nephew was born 10 and a half years ago. (Understanding the importance of half-years a good tip for aspiring aunts.)
There is no mystery as to why I would have pulled off the shelf The Complete Book of Aunts (Twelve, 245 pages, $19.99) by Rupert Christiansen with Beth Brophy.
This book is a love letter to aunts the world over. It is no wonder the British Christiansen includes early on in the book a section on John Lennon's Aunt Mimi, who raised him in a stable household after his mother, Julia, proved too flighty to properly care for him.
"Mimi was a conventional disciplinarian, emphasizing the value of domestic routine, cleanliness and good manners. She gave up work to rear John, and proudly claimed that 'he never came back to an empty house.' He was required to mow the lawn, clean his room, and go to church on Sundays."
Of course, not all aunts become mothers to their nieces and nephews — but many of them would if needed, and that's what makes them special.
Aside from a creepy chapter on "X-Rated Aunts," this book is full of heartwarming stories that pay tribute to that special relationship aunts and aunties have with their families. There are even sections on fictional aunts we're all familiar with: Auntie Mame, my favorite (based on author Patrick Dennis' real aunt), Auntie Em (from "The Wizard of Oz"), Aunt Bee from "The Andy Griffith Show" (the book includes her fried chicken recipe) and Aunt Jemima (who was really a woman from Chicago named Nancy Green).
Christiansen concludes the book with a chapter titled "The Good Aunt Guide," which includes a list: Ten Golden Rules For Aunts. Here are a few of the best ones:
* Always talk up to nieces and nephews and assume they are slightly older than they are.
* Presents don't have to be big or expensive, but they should be imaginative — and arrive on the right day.
* Get the nieces and nephews away from their parents, and see them on their own.
*Tell them about your own life, and what it's like to be you — these lessons may not register immediately, but they will sink in.