Blokes who would normally spend Easter tramping, hunting, fishing, surfing or at their local DIY store are being urged to read instead.

A new online campaign starts today to encourage more men to read, following research which showed the number of adult men who read or started to read at least one book in 2017 dropped from 84 to 81 per cent. Men also made up 69 per cent of those who did not read a book in that time – up from 63 per cent the previous year.

The Blokes vs Books initiative, started by Read NZ Te Pou Muramura and the NZ Society of Authors, features well-known New Zealand men talking with playwright Victor Rodger about reading, their favourite books and the books they meant to but never got around to reading.

Playwright Victor Rodger is behind a new campaign to get New Zealand men reading. Photo / Jason Oxenham
Playwright Victor Rodger is behind a new campaign to get New Zealand men reading. Photo / Jason Oxenham

Famous faces include Leigh Hart, Shortland Street actor Jay Kiriona, the founders of independent brewery The Garage Project and Hell Pizza, MP Damien O'Connor and politician turned broadcaster John Tamihere.

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The campaign, a series of short light-hearted interviews to be released on social media, follows meetings held last year of a "men's reading panel" held in Wellington bars for self-described reluctant readers.

Rodger, who attended the meetings, says men spoke of wanting to read – and once enjoying the pastime – but finding that life had gotten in the way.

He says with the country in lockdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic he has been reading more, picking up books he had long meant to read but didn't have time to. Looking back, Rodger says reading books in his youth like Another Country by James Baldwin helped with his own struggles regarding his sexuality and cultural identity.

"As a confused young man, it was comforting to read books and stories like that."

NZ Society of Authors' chief executive Jenny Nagle says research shows that as well as being enjoyable and stretching the imagination, reading for pleasure also improves educational outcomes, social skills and health. It has also been shown that children benefit when read to by their fathers.

Read NZ Te Pou Muramura CEO Juliet Blyth says it's not about being proscriptive or judgmental about what men are reading, but simply encouraging them to give it a go even if it starts with just five minutes of a book or a magazine on a subject they're already interested in and builds from there.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Coalition for Books has opened the door for readers to find out more about locally published material recently released or due to come out at a time when bookstores and libraries are closed.

It's dedicated a page on its website for First Chapters – new New Zealand books whose launches have been temporarily halted because of Covid-19.
www.coalitionforbooks.nz/first-chapters/

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