Book Review: The Art of Family


The Art of Family: Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality
Gina Bria (1998, Dell Books)

Traditions, rites, memories, rituals:  These are overwhelming to parents desiring to foster a nurturing home environment for their children — one of joy, playfulness, freedom to be who they (and we) are, common courtesy, respect, and unconditional love. Such big shoes to fill, and we know it.

artoffamilyTruth be told, the only words I hear myself uttering over and over again these days is “No,” and “Please get off your brother’s head.” My wife and I agree, in this capacity we seem to be vinyl records (albums, they once were called) caught in a scratched rut with no end in sight. How do we go about creating and fostering a careful, mind-opening home environment when our parental minds are already nearly melted? How to go about molding a lasting family when we have zero previous experience at the job? From what place does creativity come when we’re bone tired by 6pm? How to win over fear when the world outside our walls is treacherous, unfriendly, and chronically bleak? The task seems insurmountable and unattainable, but it has been done before; parents have survived parenthood, and our own children one day, God willing, will be up to the task themselves.

Family-creating, as author and anthropologist Gina Bria points out in her wonderfully articulate, and refreshingly non-judgmental book, The Art of Family, is indeed an art, and oftentimes art must be trudged through in order to get the right colors on the canvas, the right words on the page, the flowers in the correct garden soil and light. A family is a “little society” from which play, ritual, imagination and story all are reinjected into the contemporary home. In Bria’s own words, The Art of Family is “not a guide or manual to ‘achieving’ family [but] a book about applied hope and intelligence, a short definition of imagination. I hope this book and its stories will be a new imaginative friend to you, sparking new ideas, offering solace, giving rest.” Fulfilling the author’s expressed hope, my wife and I continue to pull this book from the shelves from time to time as a sort of reference, an encouragement, and something like a steady friend.

Eric Peters, affectionately called "Pappy" by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He's a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he's not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he's touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.


  1. Alyssa

    It’s always such a relief to me to know that other Christian parents deal with these same doubts and questions. If this book can speak hope to scratched vinyl records, it is officially on top of my must-read list. Thanks.

  2. Tony Heringer

    Thanks Eric. It really is important to establish family traditions and the general mode for family liviing. I remember early on in our parenting hearing one speaker on this topic refer to “laughter in the walls” — as in “If this house could talk it would tell a joke or some mirthful story.” That little phrase stuck with Cherie and I through the years spawning all sorts of merriment including our annual Christmas Caroling party which brings in all generations of our friends for a fun evening of laughter and songs out in the streets of our neighborhood. Its not only been a fun time for our family but others who have become regulars at this gathering — in fact I had a guy email me this week asking about it.

    I love books of this type (“applied hope and intelligence: – great phrase) as they are inspiration when you feel like you are being worn down and out by life.

  3. Lori Taylor

    Oh yes and yes! My son (now 26) and I used to call it an awkward dance. If the stakes weren’t so high we would laugh at the mistakes we made. But Grace and Mercy, that God chooses to heap on us as we cry out to Him, has turned all those tripping steps into something lovely to look back on.

  4. Rob Y

    Thank you Eric. I will definitely give this book a read. I appreciate your transparency with regard to often-repeated phrases in your home. In our home, with our youngest son recently starting to use the toilet at the same time as his older brother, we could also add “Please stop peeing on your brother” to the list.

  5. Evan

    Picked this up on a whim at a book sale this weekend! So glad to read your recommendation Eric! Can’t wait to read the book!

  6. Eric Peters

    Evan, so glad you found this book on a whim; it’s not a super-easy book to track down. A rich read.

  7. Cherie Heringer

    I love the review Eric and I am intrigued to read the book. Alexandra Stoddard has written a book called, “Living a Beautiful Life” and she refers to everyday tasks – the ones that can tend to drain us – as rituals. Her encouragement is to create beauty out of the mundane. Family is much like a painting. Each of us have our color and we bring that with our various textures, brush strokes, paint balloons and hues to the canvas. And our canvas’ are many as stages progress.

  8. Canaan Bound

    Cherie, I just have to say this…because it has to be said. I share your name, and spelling, too. I think I can count on one hand the number of people I’ve met who claim the name Cherie. I could count on the other the number of people who pronounce it correctly on the first try. So…that’s all, really. Just sayin. The end.

  9. Dryad's Speech Nazi

    The previous post was, indeed, a joke. I actually learned how to pronounce that in my French class.
    Please forgive my poor taste.
    (Why is it impossible to remove comments?)

  10. Dryad

    The previous post was a joke. I do know how to pronounce Cherie; I learned in French class. Please forgive my bad taste.
    (I wish we could remove comments.)

  11. Tony Heringer

    Well, I got that one right. Now we will debate the way to pronounce Evie – a name I botched at Hutchmoot, but my fellow ‘mooters caught my error before addressing our wonderful chef for the week-end.

  12. Peter Br

    What a breath of freedom to those of us who desperately want and need to move beyond the broken-record style of parenting.

    I am SO getting this book.

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