The Next Chapter·Dog-Eared Reads

Why Sheila Heti has kept the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols on her desk for 20 years

The author of Motherhood discusses one of her favourite books.
The author of the novel Motherhood recommends reading the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. (Sylvia Plachy/Macmillan/Penguin)

Sheila Heti is a Canadian writer whose books include How Should a Person Be?, The Middle Stories and The Chairs are Where the People Go. Her latest is the novel Motherhood, in which Heti tries to investigate what having a child would mean for her — and if it's something she wants to do.

One of Heti's favourite books is the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant. Here's why.

"One book I go back to is the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols, which I've kept on my desk for 20 years. You can look up a symbol and it tells you every association that, more or less, every culture from the beginning of time has had with it. You find out, for example, what people around the world throughout time have associated with turtles. It's helpful in my writing and when I'm thinking about the dreams I've had. It's deepened my understanding of the world."

Sheila Heti's comments have been edited and condensed.