16 Dec 2023

Ruth Shaw: Wee bookshops and huge love for dogs

From Saturday Morning, 9:05 am on 16 December 2023
Ruth and Kane credit Graham Dainty

Ruth Shaw and Kane the dog Photo: Graham Dainty

Septuagenarian Ruth Shaw's plans for a quiet retirement were derailed last year when her memoir The Bookseller at the End of the World became an international bestseller.

The book chronicled her incredibly adventurous life, including time on the high seas, working with King's Cross sex-workers, and decades fighting for the environment.

The Manapōuri bookseller runs three "wee" bookshops, and as well as human visitors, she has plenty of canine customers as well.

Shaw told Susie Ferguson on Saturday Morning about her newest book Bookshop Dogs.

"So many people have said I love books and my second love is a dog and some people say I love dogs and my second love is a book," she says.

"It's really interesting because even people that haven't got dogs are enjoying the book, which I'm really pleased about."

The book begins with the revelation that Ruth actually came from a cat family.

"We always had cats and my sister has two cats that totally rule her home,"

"I love cats but because we've got a semi-predator free fence around our section with a small forest that we have planted, we can't have a cat because we have so many birds...tūī , fantails and the bellbirds are back."

But one of the book's main character's and a main character in Ruth's own life, is Hanza the dog.

"When I was employed by the Invercargill Council to be the detached youth worker in town, I really thought there had to be an easier way to get through to the youth that I was working with. They were in situations where they didn't trust adults in many cases. So I came up with the idea of having a dog."

"Hanza was the runt of his litter."

Ruth says he was timid at first but grew into the most insightful and patient dog.

"He could see what was required of him. A lot of his time was just sitting with somebody and letting them talk to him. I think that's the great thing about dogs, we all talk to our dogs and they sit there and listen and you wonder sometimes what's going on in their head," she says.

"Hanza was a talker so if you spoke to him, he'd always talk back to you."

He became a local celebrity with the Invercargill youth.

"He was the main reason I could get through to some of the youths quite quickly.

"It was all because of Hanza."

At one point, Hanza was stolen and Ruth says Invercargill mobilized to help find him.