Book group provides social glue for Whakatane men

For a part-time bush worker, his men’s book club provides much needed social interaction.

Whakatane semi-retiree Peter Fergusson, who works for Manawahe Eco Trust helping to eradicate pest animals from bushland, is part of a 9-man BDS group who meet monthly to talk about a selected title.

“Some men don’t get lots of opportunities to sit down and talk with other men about things other than the immediate sports event or news events or their work,” says Peter.

“To have an opportunity to sit down and discuss whatever is really good,” he says.

His book group has been going for three years and meets in each other’s homes. Most of the men are aged in their 60s. Two, including Peter, are semi-retired but the others work in a range of professions including medicine, engineering and teaching.

“I think men can sometimes be quite isolated and lonely, because for some who are working 50 or 60 hours a week their world becomes narrowed,” says Peter. “I’m sure that’s true for some women as well, but in my opinion women are better at making contact and organising their social networks.”

Even though Peter works only part-time, his job is a solitary one. He can spend all day in the bush, patrolling for possums, rats and stoats. The charitable trust he works for maintains bush on hilly farmland that forms a corridor between Rotorua Lakes and the sea. “I can spend 2 or 3 days without seeing anybody apart from my immediate family,” he says.

At their meetings, the men enjoy a good wine and eating cheese and crackers or the occasional dessert. Discussion of the book itself may only take up a quarter of the evening but often stimulates chat on other topics such as music, politics or world events. The discussion often doesn’t wind up until 10 or 11pm.

The men’s reading taste gravitates slightly in favour of non-fiction. The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind was a recent stand-out for the group.

“Everybody looks through the scheme’s list of books and chooses some. It’s quite good to be forced to read things that you probably wouldn’t select by choice,” says Peter. “I quite like history ones because you can imagine yourself as just an ordinary person in that a different era, how you would be and behave,” he says.

BDS currently has 14 men-only groups around the country but estimates that about 10% of its 13,000 book-club readers are men. A 2018 report by the Book Council of New Zealand (Book Reading in New Zealand ) indicated a slight drop in the number of Kiwi men reading. The council’s 2018 research indicates a drop of 3% in the past year in the number of adult males starting to read at least one book. The reported stated that males make up 69% of those adults who did not read a book in the past 12 months.

His all-male book group provides social interaction for part-time bush worker and pest-trapper Peter Fergusson.
(Photo credit: courtesy of Peter Fergusson)

This article was submitted to the Rotorua Daily Post and appeared in the Saturday 13 November edition.

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Scheme is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations in Aotearoa New Zealand
BDS is a member of the Federation of Workers Educational Associations