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Savvy Auntie: Some Thoughts on Marginalized Roles and Styles of Writing

A celebration of aunties, no snark included

A society obsessed with the roles of romantic partner, spouse, and parent, to the exclusion of other significant relationship roles, is an overly narrow one. Such places marginalize people who are not coupled and not parents. They can also caricature people who are married with children, by ignoring the other important people and relationships in their lives.

So whenever I hear about a new book that recognizes people other than spouses and parents, I'm intrigued and cautiously optimistic. I was already familiar with a website called Savvy Auntie, so a book by the same name and the same author sounded promising.

The book, by Melanie Notkin, has the subtitle, "The ultimate guide for cool aunts, great-aunts, godmothers, and all women who love kids." That is an accurate description. The book is more of a guide than a curl-up-and-read-for-hours sort of offering. Although demographic trends are noted, and observations about the stereotyping of women with no children are made in passing, Savvy Auntie is not a critical analysis of the role of aunts in American society. Instead, the book includes chapters on practical matters such as niece- and nephew-proofing your home, choosing appropriate gifts, and understanding nutrition for babies and children.

Judging from the current Amazon ranking, the book is already very popular. It also has a great set of endorsements. I think that readers are finding the information useful and many of them welcome the acknowledgement of the important role of aunties in the lives of many children (and adults).

The content is straightforward, so what I want to discuss instead here is style. I think it is relevant to some of the exchanges that flare up in the comments section of this blog now and then.

Below are some excerpts from the book that should give you a sense of the style of writing in Savvy Auntie.

Example 1 comes from the opening paragraphs:

"The day my nephew was born, I took a photo of the sky to remember what the world looked like the day my life changed forever.

"When I cradled him in my arms for the first time, I felt the weight of his tiny body. I felt the weight of my devotion to him. I felt more joy and love than I had ever felt in my life. In fact, what I felt was a love I'd never known before. A powerful, unconditional, prideful love."

Example 2 is from a chapter on "Festivaunts," which begins like this:

"From the very first day you become an auntie, all the days that follow feel a little more special. But of course, some days - birthdays, holidays, religious celebrations, family firsts, and commemorations - really are a little more special. And special occasions always call for extra planning, which just so happens to be a Savvy Auntie's specialty. Let the fetes begin!"

In a third example, the author encourages us to "Have a "DebutAunt Ball." Here are some of her suggestions for doing so:

"Decorate in pinks, blues, or whatever colors best represent your newborn niece or nephew...Hang a WELCOME TO THE WORLD sign with your niece's or nephew's name on it...Pick a flower and make it your theme..."

This is a style of writing I think of as earnest. It reminds me of the heartfelt stories that fill the countless Chicken Soup volumes. It is not snarky or snide. No one would ever misinterpret Melanie Notkin as putting down people who are not savvy aunties. She is even gentle in the ways she notes the inaccuracy of the stereotypes of people who do not have children.

I don't write like that. Especially when I'm writing about singles, I write with attitude. I can't do earnest well. It is not me. I also find sometimes that if I make my points too softly, they aren't heard. I like to tee up my arguments forcefully, and diffuse any sting with humor if I can. (I wish I could always generate hilarity on demand.)

My sort of writing has its audience. But it also comes with risks. What I see as attitude and wit, others view as arrogance or nastiness. At the same time, my style strikes some people as too sincere. I once left a comment on another person's blog and was mocked for my earnestness.

My guess is that the Chicken Soup sensitivity has more potential readers than my arugula style. Probably, though, the least successful style is the faked one. As they say at writing conferences, your voice should be your own.