The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters by Priya Parker explores the benefits, purpose, and power of a variety of gatherings. Please indulge me as I add personal reflections to this book review!
The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker
Genre/Categories: Nonfiction, Essays, Planning and Organization, Leadership, Group Dynamics
*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.
My Summary of The Art of Gathering
Although the content in these essays is geared heavily toward business gatherings, the author provides some applications to personal social gatherings as well. She goes into detail about the specific purpose of a gathering and the overall organization.
What I loved: The concept I love most about the book is Parker’s emphasis on PEOPLE not THINGS. While Martha Stewart might focus on food presentation, place cards, and centerpieces, Parker’s focus is on the experience of her guests…their comfort, enjoyment, connection, and satisfaction.
Generally Applicable: The concepts in this book can be applied to any type of gathering, but I think they offer a great deal of insight for professionals. I love books that cause me to think of ordinary things in new ways. I cannot attend a wedding, conference, or party again without thinking of the elements of gathering that Parker presents.
Related: It seems that books like The Little Book of Hygge (the Danish secrets to living well) and Joyful (principles of design) might pair nicely with this book for those that are most interested in “family and friends” type social gatherings.
Purpose, Venue, and Guests: A Personal Application
In reflecting about the Covid-19 Pandemic, I think most of us might agree that “gathering” is what we missed most and had taken for granted all our lives. It was especially meaningful for me to attend a family reunion this summer that had been postponed/cancelled for two consecutive years! I couldn’t help thinking about my reunion and relating it to the book’s content. Please indulge me as I share some personal pictures!
Purpose: In The Art of Gathering, Parker devotes a great deal of content to helping organizers identify and develop a purpose (which guides all other decisions). She passionately believes that all decisions made about the gathering stem from purpose.
In July I attended a family reunion. In hindsight, I was thrilled that one of the first communications from my aunt (the organizer) clearly defined, a specific purpose for our reunion: to create memories for the younger generations so they might want to continue reunions in the future for their children. With memory making as the purpose, we enjoyed easy yet “crowd pleasing” meals, campfires every night, yummy smores, a festive sunset hayride, long and leisurely chats around the table (one night it was a book discussion!), friendly volleyball games and corn hole competitions, afternoon skeet shooting, an afternoon pie social (with all homemade pies of course), spectacular prairie sunsets, homemade cookies and bars, star gazing at night, joining hands (and hearts) in a large circle before every meal to sing table grace (Lutheran tradition), and a magically large tent……treasured memories to last a lifetime and ones to inspire the next generation.
Gathering for homemade pie.
Gathering for volleyball
Gathering around the campfire
Some enthusiasts gathering for skeet shooting
Gathering for a hayride (pulled by a John Deere tractor)
Gathering in awe of sunset
Gathering in a circle to sing table grace (similar to this first verse)
Be present at our table, Lord
Be here and everywhere adored
Bless these mercies and grant that we
Might feast in paradise with thee.
How many of you have sung some version of this table grace?
Venue: Parker emphasizes finding the right venue for your gathering. The venue for our reunion was my cousin’s farm in northeastern South Dakota, and more specifically a very large tent! Our family roots are in this rural area of South Dakota. We can drive around the countryside to see the farms that my parents and grandparents lived on, and we can walk through country cemeteries and find the names of family and friends. Folks from the city can breath in the fresh country air and appreciate all the space and peacefulness. The perfect venue for us is the land where our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents lived and loved, toiled and farmed. I know they were all there in spirit.
Gathering at the family farm
Parker also insists that your gathering space has a defined perimeter. Our tent provided the perimeter that protected, blessed, and enhanced our conversations and held the laughter and joy. “Visiting” is a sport in the Midwest and we are the champions.
Gathering under the large, magical tent
Guests: Parker insists on a well-defined and wisely-chosen guest list for a successful gathering. For us, if you are a descendant of the three Anderson siblings, you scored an invite. In fact, you were a VIP guest….you BELONG. Is there a better feeling than belonging? Is there anything more treasured and precious than “your people”? My daughter and I couldn’t help but comment several times how happy and privileged we are to belong to a group of such likable, kind, generous, and inclusive, people!
Gathering the first generation of Anderson cousins…we’re not the kids any more!
(I’m 3rd from the right)
Parker’s Focus in on People: In the beginning of this post I mention what I love most about this book….it’s focus on PEOPLE. Every decision by the organizers of our reunion had the people in mind. From the welcome and prayer (which set the purpose), to the home-style meals, to the family-friendly activities, to the heartwarming conversations, to including children, the younger generation, and the seniors in all activities and conversations, to the moving concluding remarks, we felt loved and not “organized.” The spirit of Hygee naturally inhabited the family reunion (a nod to our Danish heritage) and added to the warmth.
Gathering for a 2022 reunion photo
Recommending The Art of Gathering:
The Art of Gathering is especially recommended for professionals as they organize conferences, classrooms, and staff meetings; however, the concepts here also apply to family gatherings and celebrations. If you want to add more nonfiction to your TBR and love thinking about the “behind the scenes” of a gathering, you might enjoy this book.
My Rating: 4 Stars
Meet the Author of The Power of Gathering, Priya Parker
PRIYA PARKER works to help people create collective meaning in their lives through gatherings. She is a master facilitator, strategic advisor, acclaimed author of The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why it Matters, and the host and executive producer of the New York Times podcast, Together Apart. Trained in the field of conflict resolution, Parker has worked on race relations on American college campuses and on peace processes in the Arab world, southern Africa, and India. She studied organizational design at M.I.T., public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and political and social thought at the University of Virginia. She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn, NY. @priyaparker
Do you plan many gatherings?
Did you miss small and large gatherings during the Pandemic?
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Unless explicitly stated that they are free, all books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library.
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Interesting concept for a book – like you I’ve attended thousands of business meetings over the years, many of them entirely pointless. If only people had done what this book recommends and identified a clear purpose, they would have been more worthwhile.
Reflecting how how to gather more effectively is always worth pondering!
I love your photos Carol and hearing how the book related so well to your family reunion.
Thanks Nicki! 🙌💖
This sounds like an interesting book. I love the way you applied it to your family reunion and loved seeing the pictures you shared. I have sung that table grace before at a friend’s home. You are right that visiting is a sport in the Midwest! I don’t plan many events, but this sounds like a helpful book.
Thanks for commenting Gretchen! I think I’ll experience every gathering from now on through the lens of this book!
What a Fun Fun post Carol!! What a joy to have a reunion like that with all the big family. I am really interested in the topic of gathering– mostly in the context of the church, women I meet with for different groups. Will have to track this book down and see how it applies. thanks!
Thanks Rhonda! You could write your own book I think! This book will validate all you do!
What a great post, Carol. I loved all your pictures and enjoyed seeing how this book related to your reunion.
Thanks Carla! 💖
[…] For “Why,” I need to find the word in the subtitle ofThe Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker […]