From Iceland — Children's Reykjavík

Children’s Reykjavík

Published September 3, 2009

Children’s Reykjavík

By the time adults have children, they’re often out of touch with kid culture and need help figuring out what to do all day with their three-foot wonders. Even once things get going reasonably well, it’s easy to get into a rut and forget about fun things that are just around the corner but missing from our mental map of town.

Parents need a regular stream of new ideas for their kids. These can come through word of mouth, serendipity, the newspaper, or looking in the telephone book. They can even come from a guidebook to things that kids and parents can do. There are already guidebooks like this for many cities. Now there is one to Reykjavík, called Children’s Reykjavík / Reykjavík barnanna.

Children’s Reykjavík is small and thick, with over 400 nicely designed spiral-bound pages, perhaps forty of which are given over to advertising. The rest is divided into ten chapters that are labelled with colours and numbers but no titles, so to find a particular subject you have to hunt a bit in the table of contents or index. The content is bilingual, with English usually on the left side of each opening and Icelandic on the right.
There’s a lot of information in here. The book covers a really good range of topics, including some that can be hard to find out about. For example, the book tells you where you can take your child for a haircut or family photograph, where you can hold a pre-packaged birthday party, where to find art and music courses, and where kids can go to summer camp.

The book also includes a few profiles of semi-prominent Reykjavík parents, who describe how they spend their time with their kids in ways that range from honest to slightly saccharine.

The book’s English translation and proofreading is imperfect—not enough to spoil the information, but enough to make reading it a bit awkward (in one great blooper, we’re told about an astrology club which meets at the telescope in Seltjarnarnes.) Also, the English usually translates only a part of the original Icelandic text, making the English entries markedly shorter than their Icelandic counterparts across the page.

The reviews themselves are most helpful when they appear to reflect the authors’ honest opinion. At other times, they have a bit of a promotional feel to it and use marketing language sometimes seemingly derived from the brochures of the places reviewed. For example, on page 188 we are told that “Adams Kids aims to provide you with a unique and rewarding shopping experience that we’re sure you’ll never forget.”

Children’s Reykjavík doesn’t tell us whether some of the listings were paid for, but the recommendation for KFC in the restaurant listings sticks out as possibly related to the KFC advertisement a few pages away. All guidebooks sit somewhere on a continuum from being entirely promotional to entirely independent. This book is perhaps a little too far towards the promotional side for my taste, although not so far to render most of its recommendations untrustworthy.

Overall, Children’s Reykjavík is a useful but flawed book. It could be a lot better. But it’s nice that it exists. And rather than criticizing the English translation, we should probably be glad that there’s any English in the book at all! I’d say that paying 2.990 kr. for it (2.691 kr. at Bóksala stúdenta) is a worthwhile investment if you are fairly new to town and want to spend a couple hours socializing yourself into the world of children’s activities in Reykjavík.

Children’s Reykjavík is already out of date, like any guidebook. Some of the places mentioned in the book have already closed, like Hreyfiland and Saltfélagið. So for those who know the city already, I wouldn’t recommend buying this book for reference. If you need, say, the opening hours or telephone number for Húsdýragarðurinn, it’s easier to look on the web. But if you’re just looking for new ideas and inspiration, flipping through this book is a fine idea.

Like other guidebooks in the twenty-first century, though, this one is caught in a set of Internet-age paradoxes. Why pay to own a little brick of colourfully printed dead tree when you can not only read it at the library but also get the same information, albeit unfiltered, online? And this book could be produced more cheaply and updated more regularly, and could reach a larger audience more quickly, if it was available on the web for free. But then there might not be any revenue stream associated with putting the information together.

For now, the publishers of this book stuck with the old style of embargoing their content, restricting  it to those who pay for a copy that’s printed on paper, and paying their bills with the revenue from these sales as well as conventional print advertising. This model still works, or at least inspires hope in prospective authors. But for how much longer? When someone eventually figures out how to fit books like Children’s Reykjavík into a workable web-based business model, it may free guidebook authors to focus more on providing good content and less on the economics of selling paper copies.

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