Each year thousands of pilgrims, or “People of the Book” as they are known, join the pilgrimage to place called Founders Park, where under the welcoming arms of a giant windmill, they come in search of books, relics of an almost bygone age. Some come hoping to find enlightenment, succour, and revelation within the relics. Others wish merely for some hints on growing roses or the autograph of an All Black scribbled on a flyleaf.
Clad simply and modestly in warm jackets, woolly hats, and sturdy footwear they come from all points of the compass, holding in gloved hands the empty bag which is the symbol of the pilgrimage. The Peregrinatio Ad Libros, a sort of Antipodean Camino Way, dates from the last quarter of the 20th century, a time when e-books and digital content were completely unknown. Words then, were printed on sheets of paper which were bound together to make “books” and “magazine” and “newspapers”.
Although no pilgrim is elevated above the rest, certain books are awarded special status each year for reasons both whimsical and arcane. These prestigious awards for 2013 have just been announced.
“Air Navigation - Some Problems and Their Solutions” carried off the Please Read This Before Take-off Award which was jointly sponsored by Air New Zealand and Qantas. “Basic Home Wiring (illustrated)” was easy winner of the ACC-sponsored Please Don’t Try This at Home Award, although “Fossilise Your Hamster and Other Amazing Experiments” ran a close second. More of which later.
“The New Departure Handbook Vol.II” has been awarded the Most Likely to Bring Tears to the Eyes Award. In fact, the award was created especially to honour this genre-bending and mind-bending collection of “useful tables, data and formulae together with essential information pertinent to the selection, application and lubrication of ball-bearings”. And speaking of tears, The Occupational Therapy in Print Award went to “The Ups and Downs of Needlepoint”. The book was praised for its sensitive handling of mood disorders amongst craftswomen by its sponsors the Guild of Depressed Embroiderers. The Least Appetising Cookbook Award went to “Cooking the Fat-Free, Salt-Free, Sugar-Free, Flavour-Full Way” which also won the Flying in the Face of Reason Award for 2013.
Last year, the Award for the Longest Book Title went to Ziggy Zen. Mr Zen won this year’s award for Most Intriguing Author Name. However, his cookbook “How to Become a Dinner Party Legend and Avoid Crippling Psychological Damage” failed to win the Longest Book Title Award. “Hot! The cookbook for passionate devotees who go bonkers over the incendiary pleasures of food that never stops whamming, popping, or zapping” took the Award, and beat Zen’s publication by a staggering thirteen syllables.
The major prize this year, the Natureland Award, was sponsored by the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Zoological Commerce, and was awarded to “A Guide to Model Making and Taxidermy”. The judges commented that the book really merited a subtitle and suggested “everything you ever wanted to know about stuffing and mounting once-living creatures, but were afraid to ask”.
Even a cursory glance at the chapter headings reveals that the book is extraordinarily comprehensive. It opens with “We Skin a Pheasant”, moves on to “Making Eyes” and “A Bird Assembled” before progressing to the stuffing of animals, reptiles, amphibians and the big finale, Life-Size Habitat Groups. In making the award, the Chamber of Commerce hinted that the book may hold a solution to Natureland’s on-going financial woes. A small investment in glass eyes and the artistry for which Nelson is famous, could transform the whole of Natureland into a Life-Size Habitat Group. Benefits are obvious: stuffed animals are economical to keep as they require no feed or veterinary care, and pose nil risk of animal bites or avian flu. “How to Fossilise Your Hamster”, was awarded runner-up status for similar reasons: fossilised animals, having no moving parts are very low-maintenance and last for millennia without moulting or shedding.
Animals cropped up less controversially, though often unexpectedly, in the strangest of places. “Pigs, Piglets and Porkers” for example, appeared in the Crafts section of the Peregrinatio rather than in Animals, Cooking or Agriculture. Turns out that it’s a compendium of pig-inspired quilting, stitching, embroidery, and applique projects. By inviting the reader to “wallow in wacky, wonderful, porcine projects” it almost, but not quite, took the Mabel Pollack Most Alliterative Title Award. This Award was named after Ms Pollack whose “To Work, To Wed, To Weep, To Wander" won the Most Alliterative Title Award in 2012. However this year’s award in this category went to “Turn Hurts into Halos and Scars into Stars” for its brave attempt to combine rhyme with alliteration.
The Peregrinatio Ad Libros continues until next Sunday. Please offer food and drink to any tired and hungry pilgrim you see on the streets of Nelson. Should they need encouragement whisper to them these words of John Bunyan, author of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”: “Now may this little Book a blessing be/To those that love this little Book, and me:/And may its Buyer have no cause to say, His money is but lost, or thrown away.”