Culture
Books
Inside Reykjavík: The Grapevine Guide

Inside Reykjavík: The Grapevine Guide

Words by

Published April 21, 2009

Yes, I have a conflict of interest in reviewing this book, as I have done work for the author, and the Grapevine holds the copyright, and some of its material originally appeared here in this magazine. But hey, I’m not on this newspaper’s staff, and nobody else on the island seems to have reviewed this truly unusual book. Someone had to do it, and because I have slogged away in the travel guidebook industry for nearly 20 years and am supposed to have developed some kind of perspective on it, I gave myself the job.
Inside Reykjavík is not precisely a guidebook to Reykjavík, as it’s way more sophisticated and doesn’t cover hotels, transport or sightseeing. It’s more of a companion to the city. It lists restaurants and clubs, but not their hours or prices. It covers daily life, swimming pools, cafes, food, going out, shopping, music and art, and daytrips. There are more than thirty superb candid photos, selected by Guðmundur Freyr Vigfússon. (I recognised a few people I know; so might you.)
Bart means to be tongue-in-cheek when he says that the book is “doing a commendable and historical sociological service in documenting the phenomenon that is Reykjavík today,” but in fact this is just what the book does. And it’s cutting edge. It’s ahead of the curve. As Bart himself might put it, the book voices “key thoughts” about Iceland that many people think but are “unable to state.” It’s one of the best things to come out in English on Iceland since Amalia Líndal’s Ripples from Iceland.
Bart bursts tourist clichés. He shows you how to think beyond weather, volcanoes, and the old story about Iceland and Greenland being misnamed. He explains why you shouldn’t discuss elves, Vikings, or geology with Icelanders. He includes Sólheimajökull, Hafnarfjörður, and EVE Online in the daytrip section. He reviews swimming pools and fast food, and dares to discuss cod worms. Actually, I found the fish section a bit weak, but the other 99% of the book convinces me of the merits of guidebooks written by people who really know a town, not scribblers who fly in one week and fly out the next. For travel guidebook junkies: Inside Reykjavík has similarities to A User’s Guide to Tallinn, put out by students at the Estonian Art Academy several years ago, but it is more practical and less fartsy.
The best thing about this book: This guy Bart Cameron can write. There’s one great sentence after the next. And he’s never boring. Some of the listings will be out of date soon, but this book will always be a monument to Reykjavík in 2006.


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