Friday, December 30, 2011

Book Review: It's Cold and There Are Children Singing

“Those who can cook become chiefs; those who can’t become food critics”

In keeping with their alternative coverage of Eurovision last month ESCInsight published a book on JESC, titled: It’s Cold and There are Children Singing by Ewan Spence. This is a mould breaking book not so much for the content but the fact that a book might exist about any aspect of the Eurovision Song Contest and not be the grand history of the contest by John Kennedy O’Connor. Neither writing nor reviewing books is a particularly pleasant but it is an important task, that’s why I’m doing this. Even though the book itself is only 13000 or so words long, this still requires a review of over 800 words long. When I started writing this I wanted to write a review but at times it turned into more of a critical discussion. I think this is required given how long the book is published.

No book about Eurovision, for Eurovision fans is going to be an easy write. It is no easy task to write facts for us hard-core fans while at the same time balancing this with stories that we might not have heard in the daily podcasts or reports on other sites. This raises a fundamental question; what is this book for? When I bought it of Amazon for $2.34 (£1.67) my first though was “This better not be a summary of what already came out of Armenia in reports/podcasts.” However by attaching a price to something you’re automatically raising the bar. That’s why I wrote this review in the first place, as some would say in Ireland “You’re playing senior hurling now lads”.

Two major themes come out of the book, the first being the fairness, togetherness and community of Junior Eurovision. Spence regularly points out how fair the whole contest is, from conduct of the Children, to the general spirit of the entire contest. These arguments are made in a very sincere and honest way and at times seem to lead on a reflection of the stark differences between the Adult and Junior contents. Unfortunately, he doesn’t actually do this. Without actually saying it Spence does appear quite disappointed that Georgia won the contest, not because he didn’t like it but because despite all the fair play and honesty Georgia was the only one that didn’t always play by the spirit of the contest. However as my favourite song overall (though not on the night) I still was delighted to see it win.

The second theme is for those much more familiar with Spence’s work with the contest. The theme is the cooperation by fans (I refuse to refer to them as journalists). Spence has long argued that there is much more scope for cooperation between competing sites when it comes to writing. Clearly at the Junior Eurovision Contest this was the case. Sometimes it can be wonderful to see your vision on a small scale. It allows you to dream of bigger things……

My favourite aspect of this book is the travel writing. This book is not simply about JESC. It is about adventures in Armenia. Often when we talk about Eurovision we forget the important aspects of the host country very quickly. As a lover of travel the book gives you real insight into travelling in Armenia everything from visas to currency. Those of us who really want to see the ins and outs of these foreign lands, this book takes you there. Having only been to Eastern Europe once (to Bulgaria), there are still interesting parallels between the two cultures, both such as using the French word for thank you. Travel, culture and people are often forgotten as integral parts of our understanding of the contest but are too often ignored in coverage. This book is refreshing in the way in which it gives you a real feel of Armenia.

I think what it is missing is reaction to the winner. We are bombarded with different opinions about the contest all through the Eurovision week/fortnight. However we never hear their reactions once the contest is over and even when we do it is very short and lack detail and reflection. This book could be a good platform to do that. Because it does not it actually is a missed opportunity.

I guess this was not exactly the normal review. I think it is more a piece of Eurovision literature peer reviewed by another fan. I guess I was not sure what to expect when I bought it, but I have enjoyed it. It may not take you behind the scenes of JESC but does offer a diary of a Eurovision fan at the contest and for those of us not at the contest this is a valuable read. Most importantly the two major themes discussed above give you much greater insight into the junior contest and contrast it more strongly with the adult contest in a way which those of us sitting comfortably at home never saw before. I recommend this book to all Eurovision fans, who wish they were there and to anyone who want a deeper understanding of Armenia. Well Done, Ewan, I enjoyed this.

It’s Cold and There Are Children Singing by Ewan Spence is available from Amazon (For kindle only) for £1.67/$2.34. You can download an app for your computer/iPhone/Android for kindle directly from Amazon.

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