… physical books I loved to bits…

Aged eighteen, while staying with a family friend in London, I came upon the catalogue of the greatest photographic exhibition of all time – The Family of Man – a mirror to the essential oneness of mankind throughout the world.

The exhibition was assembled by Edward Steichen for the Museum of Modern Art and contained photographs from sixty-eight nations …

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There is only one man in the world

and his name is All man

There is only one woman in the world

and her name is All Woman

There is only one child in the world

and the child’s name is All Children


The inspiring collection of images decided my first career as a photographer.

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Ironic, given that my parents’ photographic business had held no interest for me. I realised my search was for what shone through reality, the essence in people and situation. I was inspired by poetry, story, light and shadow, movement, point of view and framing.

Fully embracing this passion started an active and adventurous period of my life, with opportunities to travel and mingle with groups of highly eccentric and creative people.


A decade later, at New York’s Kennedy airport, after a several momentous months in Washington DC, while waiting for a flight back to Amsterdam with my husband to be, a title on a book rack screamed for my attention … well, it jumped at me like a dream tiger.

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Man and his Symbols.

You couldn’t find a better window into the ideas of Carl Gustav Jung.

It was Jung’s last project, addressed to a wider public, readers who would not normally come upon the over 17 volumes of his work.

Due to its pocket size, as you can see, the yellowed pages of my copy travelled and have been well-read over the years ….

The book came about through the persistence of the remarkably diverse John Freeman: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/politics/2013/03/john-freeman-face-face-enigma

He interviewed Jung in a Face to Face programme for TV: https:/ /www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPGMWF7kU_8

Seeing the programme, Wolfgang Foges (Aldus Books,) urged Freeman to persuade Jung to write a book for the general public. Jung firmly refused – until he had a dream. He consequently asked Freeman to act as editor and co-ordinator with the average reader in mind. So it became a collective project between Jung and four of his followers, M L von Franz, Joseph L Henderson, Aniela Jaffe and Jolande Jacoby, and was completed before Jung’s death in 1961,

In his introduction Freeman suggests the reader will find it a persuasive and profoundly absorbing journey … which, for me, was true from the start. During eight hours on the plane, with an occasional glance at my partner, the receding skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the expanse of oceans, my interest in dreams and the unconscious were powerfully validated. The book makes a convincing case for the imaginative life as the most distinctive characteristic of human beings. I totally grokked this: The unconscious is no mere repository of the past but also full of germs of future psychic situations and ideas … they grow up from the dark depths of the mind like a lotus and form a most important part of the subliminal psyche.

Two years on, having become a mother, and living for five years in rural Somerset with treasured time to study, it was C G Jung’s work that inspired me to delve into cultural and mythological research, leading on to my training in psychotherapy, and later still, to write novels.

My shelves contain many more books I loved to bits, and I wonder if digital version of these publications would have had the same lasting impact.

Frankly, I doubt it.

Only today I shared a tattered copy of Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ with a supervision client. She had never heard of the poet and was delighted.

Do you have books that fall apart through love and physical touch and still inspire?



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17 responses to “… physical books I loved to bits…

  1. All three mentioned were seminal for me too! But yes, the ‘content’ of an ebook will never have the same effect. If Jung’s symbols mean anything Gutenberg, press, papyrus, ink, ciphers, typesetting, all take their place in a book, and all are lacking in digital renditions!


    • Yes, Philippa. As far as I know, scarce attention is given to how organic associations and synchronicities will suffer if all texts were moved to virtual spaces. It deserves contemplation. Memories derive sense from physical roots.


  2. What a lovely insight into some of your early, printed influences. I could almost picture the younger you in both instances, drawn to the cover images, the titles, and the ideas they immediately engendered.


  3. Funny you should mention ‘The Prophet’, as my partner and myself have only just been presented with our first copy from a very dear friend.
    My ‘Pooh Bear’ books are becoming worn from the eternal flicking. Pooh is such a simple creature and I aspire to follow his plan. I have my books on Taoism (well worn) and to round it all off; photographs of the beautiful Kimberley Region here is Australia.
    One of the most wonderful books I have and keep trying to give away, is SHANTARAM. The questions this book asks of me are of constant dissonance and so, I shall never become its master.B


    • Such nuggets of wisdom in the poems by Gibran. Enjoy.
      Pooh Bear, oh yes 🙂 worth following. He’s in good company tugged among my Zen and other mystical friends.
      On the map, Kimberly seems not far from Darwin where I’ll be next week. In the English sense it’s far, though for Australians distance must have a different meaning.
      Thanks for the tip of ‘Shantaram.’ I’ll be looking out for the book. Outcasts are always fascinating.


  4. The James Thurber cartoon showing in the “Man and His [not to mention Her] Symbols” pic is a classic, the house as metaphor for the spouse (and note the rhyme, which in the cartoon is unstated). But I don’t think I know “The Family of Man.” I notice the prologue by Carl Sandburg – great poet and guitarist songster man. I’m going to get a copy, and think about yr last question. At school, one of my profs used to bring paperbacks to class, wrapped in rubber bands, all the pages already falling out, unwrap them, and read from them. Will never forget him turning the pages over like leaves. Anyway, excellent post, Ashen – memoir narrative revealing influences. Very cool.


    • The house, the spouse, he, he. I think a lot of the troubles in the world are due to the home having been for many centuries the only place where women could exercise power, and of course, also abuse it. Something often overlooked in the power discourse.
      I’m glad to see ‘The Family of Man’ is still in print, has been in print ever since the exhibition, which is amazing.
      The professor of yours, I can see him turning the pages like leaves 🙂
      Books absorb stuff, dust, energy, the passion of readers lives on in the pages.


  5. I have a couple of poetry books that are held together by love and sticky tape. We had a copy of The Stand which was passed from hand to hand and sent through the post so many times that in the end it was just a collection of pages. Kindle’s get over that problem but there is something about an old book to hold in your hand and especially if it has been handled by people you love. – What a nice post – thanks

    Liked by 1 person

  6. O I enjoyed this thank you! I’ve just read Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game for the 3rd time and it it is now definitely falling apart. Man & His Symbols is one of my most treasured books (in A4 size) ..

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Sorry for the delay sweetie, been so far behind on visiting my lovely blogs! Another great one honey! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pingback: … patina – beauty of use & age – wabi-sabi … | Course of Mirrors

  9. What an inspiring post.

    I’ve dipped in and out of Man and his Symbols over the last twenty years, or so. It’s been fascinating. I can’t think why I’ve never read it properly. I’m going to make it my summer non-fiction challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

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