The Bookseller at the End of the World

Ruth Shaw

The Bookseller at the End of the World
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The Bookseller at the End of the World

Ruth Shaw

Ruth Shaw weaves together stories of the characters who visit her bookshops, musings about favourite books, and bittersweet stories from her full and varied life.

She’s sailed through the Pacific for years, been held up by pirates, worked at Sydney’s Kings Cross with drug addicts and prostitutes, campaigned on numerous environmental issues, and worked the yacht Breaksea Girl with her husband, Lance.

Underlining all her wanderings and adventures are some very deep losses and long-held pain. Balancing that out is her beautiful love story with Lance, and her delightful sense of humour.

This will make you weep and make you laugh and make you want to read more books - and make you want to visit Ruth and her two wee bookshops.


I knew nothing about Ruth Shaw or her Two Wee Bookshops in beautiful tiny Manapouri on New Zealand’s South Island. An author photo in her memoir shows a smiling older woman and I assumed I was going to read a genteel book about her long life as a bookseller with wry, sometimes amusing, tales of her quirky customers. Wrong! What I encountered was a gritty autobiography interspersed with endearing vignettes of life in the shop. Ruth Shaw is a survivor first and a bookseller last.

Born in 1946, Shaw’s childhood was carefree and loving. You are lulled into thinking her life will progress in cocooned simplicity, but what unfolds is a life that is shattered and scattered after an event in her teens which propels her into a nomadic existence. Unfortunately, this itinerant life does not preclude her from more heartache, and as she runs from each new drama she encounters, you fear for her and hope she will find peace. Shaw’s writing is pragmatic and restrained; her voice is so strong and assured that when grief appears you gasp at its intrusion and your heart stops a second.

As a capable young woman unafraid of hard work, she turns her hand at many occupations, including a cook in hotels and crewing on boats, but always moves on when the pain of the past meets the present, leaving her vulnerable. Eventually, a quick flight back to New Zealand to help her sister proves the catalyst for a return to the people she loves. She has faced her demons and slowly begins to mend her life amid the spectacular environment of Manapouri. Here, her life comes full circle with love and acceptance once again embracing and holding her safe. Serendipitously, she opens her two bookshops that delight the locals and surprise travellers. Ruth Shaw has come home.

Alexa Dretzke is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn.

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