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Reading queen Helen Bruce, in her preferred habitat.

Ashburton woman Helen Bruce discovered books when she was a sickly child.

The now 74-year-old turned reading into a 43-year career in books and is about to officially retire, unkindly pushed by Covid-19.

Helen and husband Warren owned a bookstore for nine years in Ashburton before Helen was coaxed over to Paper Plus by Russell Anstiss; she stayed there for 19 years before moving down the block to Whitcoulls where she has been for the past 15 years.

She’s read more books than she can recall.

She voraciously reads all genres but draws the line at Mills and Boon romance and self-help books. And books on screens, like kindles.

She’s also recommended thousands of books to customers over the years, given hundreds as gifts and constantly prunes her personal collection to the benefit of family, friends and the annual bookarama.

Helen is sad to be retiring and will miss her customers and workmates. But it will give her more time for reading.

Bad asthma and a heart problem meant Helen spent lots of time in hospital as a child. She couldn’t run around as much as other kids and missed a lot of school.

She says she has spent her lifetime catching up through books that range across fiction and non-fiction, to history and very special interest.

She remembers reading in the shearing shed while her father worked on their Lagmhor farm. It was her parents that bought the books she devoured, daily when she was in hospital.

The local bookshop owner, Tom Pickford, kindly “loaned” her new books from the shelf, providing they were returned in pristine condition. Helen has continued the habit of carefully looking after her books, there are no cracked spines in her collection.

A heart operation in her early 20s, by pioneering surgeon Sir Brian Barratt-Boyes, changed her life and she met Warren, and had a daughter Hayley.

Their holidays have included visits to famous book shops around New Zealand and to the Welsh village Hay-on-Wye, an adorable book town for bibliophiles. Excess luggage was sometimes a problem on the way home.

Helen read a lot of books in lockdown, no surprise, and usually devotes a couple of hours a day to reading. She reads when she cooks and in the sun on her window seat.

She has no favourites and is genuinely enjoying The Book that Made Me at the moment. It’s a book about authors and the reason they write – Helen says she’s never been tempted though she has reviewed a lot of books for publishers.

Over the years, she has chatted with authors as diverse as Mona Anderson and Lee Child.

She steers clear of movies that are based on a book, because they usually disappoint. Sorry Tom Cruise.

A favourite bookstore memory was when she took a young university student under her wing and encouraged him to read for pleasure. He spent the following New Year’s Eve with his nose in a book.

For boys, it’s always about finding the right book, she says.

Daughter Hayley and son-in-law Stuart also love to read and grandchildren Oscar and Ruby have the reading gene too.