cover image The Complete Book of Aunts

The Complete Book of Aunts

Rupert Christiansen, with Beth Brophy. . Hachette/Twelve, $19.99 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-446-58074-8

British journalist Christiansen (Paris Babylon ) offers a curiously dry, encyclopedic look at the evolution of aunts (as in mother's and father's siblings) in this slender gift volume illustrated by Stephanie von Reiswitz. Starting with a “short history of the aunt” from her barest mention in classical literature to her finest hour in the Victorian era, the author moves into specific examples, from famous people raised or heavily influenced by their aunts (Tolstoy, Coco Chanel, Truman Capote, John Lennon) to famous aunts in literature (Aunt Leonie in Proust, the four Dodson sisters in The Mill on the Floss and Jane Eyre's malevolent Mrs. Reed). Alternating with brief bios of iconic and brand-name aunts are italicized testimonies by nieces and nephews of real-life aunts who've made a lasting impression on young lives, from places as far apart as Canada and Pakistan. Most interesting are the occasional in-depth accounts of heroic or eccentric aunts such as learned astronomer Caroline Herschel, whose relationship with her nephew defined her later years; and Aunt Jessie in Cecil Beaton's My Bolivian Aunt . Aunt Ginny, aka Virginia Woolf, earns a well-fleshed study, as does Aunt Jane Austen. (Nov.)