'I leaned on Just Kids during challenging times'

Filed on November 15, 2019
Grace Ortelere (right) with author Tayari Jones
Grace Ortelere (right) with author Tayari Jones

Talking books with Grace Ortelere, Director of EMEA Strategy for MetLife

What are you reading now?
I'm about to start reading Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi, the first Arabic novelist to win the Man Booker International Prize. We plan to discuss it in a future meeting of Let's Read!, which is a book club I started in Dubai that's open to anyone.

A book that changed your life and shaped your outlook?
The book Just Kids by Patti Smith. Fun fact: I have the title of the book tattooed on my foot! I read it when I moved to New York City years ago, and fell in love with the lyrical prose, Patti's examination of herself, and the story of persevering in a tough city. I have re-read and leaned on this book during challenging times in my life.

A book that you believe is underrated?
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is timeless. Although known as a great classic, I feel it's underrated because it's lost in contemporary conversation. This is a book that every young woman should read! Although it takes place in the 50s, today's Esther would be the exact same person, with the same thoughts.

Who would you consider a memorable literary character?
I've never been able to stop thinking about Nel from Sula by Toni Morrison. The story of Nel and Sula's fraught relationship speaks to the way a friendship - and its loss - can define us. I particularly appreciate the female friendships here, which deserve representation in literature.

Your favourite book quote - and why.
From Just Kids: "We want things we cannot have. We seek to reclaim a certain moment, sound, sensation. I want to hear my mother's voice. I want to see my children as children. Hands small, feet swift. Everything changes. Boy grown, father dead, daughter taller than me, weeping from a bad dream. Please stay forever, I say to the things I know. Don't go. Don't grow."
- As told to Roopa Kurian


 
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