We are what we read Louise Kjellerup Roper

We are what we read: In conversation with Louise Kjellerup Roper

For Neste’s Journey to Zero “We are what we read '' series, Irja Howie speaks to Volans CEO Louise Kjellerup Roper, a member of Neste’s Sustainability Advisory Council, about her favorite reads.

When thinking about her relationship to books, Louise Kjellerup Roper finds the Japanese term tsundoku very relatable: owning more books than one can read. She says: “There’s the idea that you learn from having books around you. And I’m always reading, several books at a time.”

“Books can be this wonderful escapism. But at the same time, you are putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, which is so important.

“And when you are trying to change things, you have to have more imagination - books are a great way of stretching that imagination.”

Kjellerup Roper has a whole pile of books that she feels have been important to her over the years, mainly fiction: “Books have an amazing ability to capture a point in your life, and then guide you in one direction or another. How you take them in depends on where you are in your life.”

“Books can confirm what you are feeling at certain times and give you insights into how others might feel.”

This pile of books physically sits on the table by her as we talk, and she reaches for the books as she tells me about them.

It is about feminism and independence, and the importance for women to take the space they need to grow.
– Louise Kjellerup Roper

“The first one I want to talk about is Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, which is one that my mum used to give to all young women she knew as they turned 16 – it’s a book I keep coming back to and it’s had a big impact on me. It’s a wonderful book.

“It is about feminism and independence, and the importance for women to take the space they need to grow. To focus on what you really want to learn and achieve, instead of what society wants you to.

“The book makes the point beautifully of how women need their own money and a room with a door you can close so that you are not subservient to men.”

Like her mum, Kjellerup Roper herself had a book that she gave to “everyone” for a while:

Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “I read it in Danish as a teenager and just loved it. It’s about independence and our relationship with the community around us. A lovely story wrapped up in lots of morals. It’s a great book and great books should be shared!”

It is also in this spirit of sharing that Kjellerup Roper started the Volans Book Club – a nudge to herself to read more non-fiction books, but also a “wonderful way to provide connection through books”, something that was particularly valuable through the lockdowns.

People will have this ‘Isn’t it terrible’ talk, but when do they actually start taking real action?

Kim Robinson’s sci-fi book Ministry For the Future is another firm favorite for Kjellerup Roper as a fiction book that is also very educational and thought-provoking: “I read it when it came out in 2000. It starts with a catastrophic heatwave in India – which happens in real life two years after the book is published! It’s a bit too close for comfort.

“The book contains a lot of scientific truths and facts, wrapped into a novel with a gripping storyline and relatable people.

“The point the book raises is that we have to decide when we are going to take different action to change the trajectory that we are on. People will have this ‘Isn’t it terrible’ talk, but when do they actually start taking real action? What does it take?”

Currently on her reading list is the Japanese book How Do You Live? by Yoshino Genzaburō – a text that “really feeds the imagination”. Kjellerup Roper says: ”It’s all about how different people think and their relationship to the world. This is relevant to me professionally, but I also studied philosophy, and our relationships to each other and nature has always have been huge to me.”

Unless we rediscover our connection as part of nature (...) we are missing a big part of humanity.

Before we finish Kjellerup Roper takes one more book from the pile on the desk to show me – the love of gifting books clearly runs in the family, as this one was a present from her daughter: “It’s a little book called The Lost Spells, it’s got as many pictures as words. It’s about nature. And I come back to it again and again.

“As a society we have a disconnect from nature. It’s more and more clear that unless we rediscover our connection as part of nature and the joy in that, we are missing a big part of humanity.”

When I ask her which book she would take with her to a desert island, Kjellerup Roper says: “I would struggle without many books,” and takes a while to think about it. Suddenly she lights up and says: “I would take a typewriter instead! I’d have to write a book myself.”


Irja Howie, UK-based journalist and communications expert.

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