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What do you do when a book you loved as a child turns out to be... well... a bit racist?

Not in an over the top way. Racist in a general, generational, wide-spread, common sort of way. But nonetheless... racist, or as Melissa Bank once wrote, if not racist, then race-ish.

The Cricket in Times Square is also charming. Published in 1960, it was a runner up for the Newbery Medal and is illustrated (beautifully) by Garth Williams. Suitable for readers 9 or 10 years old, the story is about Chester (a cricket) who accidentally travels to New York City from the Connecticut woods. In New York, out of his element, he befriends Tucker Mouse, Harry Cat, and a boy named Mario, whose family owns a newstand in the Times Square subway station.

Oh, and it turns out Chester has perfect pictch and can play symphonies with his chirps. He becomes a musical phenom - the most famous cricket in the world!

It's a silly, nonsensical and wonderful little story.

But... it's also disturbing. The book relies heavily on racial stereoptypes. There's the working-class Italian family from the newstand (Mama, Papa and Mario Bellini), who are the most subtle racial characters. And then there's plucky Tucker, an old-time New Yorker, money and fame obsessed. Tucker becomes Chester Cricket's musical manager and at one point, says it would be a dream come true to sleep on a bed of money and diamonds. He's a caricature of a New York Jew. Even worse is Sai Fong, an elderly Chinatown shop owner who helps Mario feed and house his new pet cricket. Highly exoticized and mystical, Sai Fong talks like this:  "You got clicket! Eee hee hee! Velly good! You got clicket!"

I'm not even kidding.

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I think The Cricket in Times Square is the sort of book that can make only a subtle impact on a child, but an impact nonetheless. And it's very appealing. In a way, it's appeal is what makes it problematic. You read it, you're charmed by it, and the ideas seep in. Disturbing, problematic ideas.That's what happened to me. And it's taken more than a decade to push them out again.

So what do I do? Do I say, 'George Selden was a bit of a racist' and toss the book? Or do I keep it, remembering that once upon a time, I read it and loved it, and still managed to turn out okay?

It's a hard question, don't you think?
 
 
I hate my Nigella Lawson measuring cups. I know hate is a strong word, but I mean it. I hate 'em.
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They were given to me as a gift about eight years ago. And at the time, I liked the look of them. (They were designed to look pretty, after all. Nigella herself has said that she designed them to stand apart from all the bland, stainless steel, functional measuring cups in the word.)

Fine. But after eight years of trying to cook with these things, I don't even like the look of them anymore. For one thing, they NEVER sit in the neat and perfect stack as shown. Never. They're always willy nilly. Willy nilly is their natural state. And when stacked, they're even less functional than usual. Only the top-most cup (teeniest) cup is easy to access. It takes two hands to dig down to the one you likely need. And they're heavy. And they're breakable, so they force you to worry about chipping them when you're busy trying to think about cooking. It's annoying.

Finally, the handles are pretty useless. I don't have fat fingers, okay? My fingers are perfectly svelte, but they don't fit through these handles. So I can only assume the handles are entirely for show.

Sigh. But they were a gift. Not from something I like or am even in touch with anymore, but still. It seems silly and wasteful to buy more measuring utensils when, with a little effort, these DO do the job sufficiently. I mean, it's not like the measurements are off or wrong or anything. The cups just annoy me.

Nigella, I have no problem with, by the way. I've even positively reviewed one of her recipes. (Chopped ceviche. Yum.) I don't hate her. I just hate her measuring cups. If you're serious about cooking (or if you cook on a regular basis) use regular stainless steel measuring cups with substantial handles. You'll thank me, I promise.

So there.
 
 
I am NOT a fan of action movies. For the most part, I don't like thrillers, mysteries, Bond films, or anything of that ilk.

I like talky movies about family dramas, relationships and emotional turmoil. That's what I like. So sue me.

But Nate and I just finished watching the (European) film versions of Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy and all three films were pretty darn good. Subtitled, sure. So if you hate subtitles, you won't like 'em, but otherwise, totally worth watching.

(And for the record, it's okay if you hate subtitles. You're very silly, but I forgive you.)

Anyway. The films were good, mostly because of the woman cast to play Lisbeth Salander: Noomi Rapace. They could NOT have cast a better person to play Lisbeth. She was unbelievably awesome. So badass. So appealing. So sympathetic. I loved her.
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The Swedish films are (admittedly) a little hard to follow (and as a friend pointed out last week on my blog about Nordic style, kinda creepy), but very compelling. I recommend watching them over the course of three consecutive nights, with a few dirty martinis by your side.

That's what we did and it was quite enjoyable.

If you haven't read the books (like me) don't fear. You'll still be able to follow the plot if you pay attention. 

Why am I recommending these films now? Because all three are now out on video, for one thing, and because the American versions are in the making and I really REALLY want you to see the European versions before all that Hollywood poop spews out and ruins your perspective.

I have a feeling the American versions are going to reek. It's not that I don't like Hollywood movies. I DO. But they lack that (essential for this story) European subtlety. They'll be too fast moving, too big, too much. American movies always are. That's often what makes them fun, but in this case, I just don't think it's going to work. The new films will lack the necessary political undertones. They'll be designed to appeal to American audiences. And if you've ever watched television, you know what that means. They'll be dumbed down. American producers don't respect their viewership. They think you're stupid.

I don't, however. I think you're smart.

All that aside, I also just don't think there's a woman in the world who will be able to do Lisbeth justice the way Noomi Rapace did. Case in point: Rooney Mara, the girl cast to play Lisbeth in the American versions of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.
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No. Just... no.

I don't like it. I don't like it one bit. Rooney is a poor man's Noomi. Granted, the costumers and makeup artists are going to great lengths to do her up right, as evidenced by this photo that was part of Mara's film promo shoot for W magazine:
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They're trying, sure, but I still don't like it. This reads like a cheap rip off of the "real" Lisbeth to me.

At the same time, I get it. Mara is a bit prettier than Rapace, a bit sexier (though only by bullshit media standards, of course). No wonder the American men who control these things cast her. She's thin and tiny, as Lisbeth is written to be, but this girl's got cleavage. And as I'm sure you know, an American producer would NEVER approve an extremely small-breasted woman (like Rapace) to star in a major motion picture.

And that's exactly the problem.

So my advice is this: see the Swedish film now. Right now. Before Hollywood rushes in and ruins everything.
 
 
Sometimes it hard find things to write about. Particularly in the review blog.

One true truth about me is that, while I DO "consume, try, test, taste, etc." I am also a bit of a homebody and I like routine. When I find something good, I tend to return to it rather than trying something new. As a result, I occasionally run out of things to review.

Which brings me to today's rather odd post. It's about Mumford. Things called Mumford. Men called Mumford. Movies called Mumford. Why?

Because Mumford is a funny word, that's why.

First, listen to Mumford and Sons . They're a British band. Been on the radio a bit. Getting pretty big. The remind me a bit of Carbon Leaf and a bit of the Bo Deans and a bit of some other more hipster modern stuff I can't place right now.  I suggest the song "The Cave" since it's obviously their breakout single. I like it. You might not. But that doesn't mean it's not good.
Done? Good. Not a bad song, right? 

Next, head out to your local video store and see if you can rent the 1999 film Mumford, starring Jason Lee (among others). The cast it pretty big.

The video store might not have it. They may not have heard of it. They may have heard of it, but can't find it. The may have it, but only on VHS.

It's wasn't exactly a blockbuster.

Try and find it anyway. It's about a guy who pretends to be a psychiatrist in a small town. If I remember correctly (and keep in mind that I saw this movie 10+ years ago) it's pretty good. Touching and odd, which is a really concise way of describing almost everything I like.

Is it touching? It is odd? Yes? Sign me up.
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I tried to find a third thing worth reviewing with the word Mumford in the title, three things being so much more appealing than two, but I didn't have much luck.
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What (or rather, who) I did find was Lewis Mumford. Apparently he was some sort of American historian and literary critic as well as a friend of Frank Lloyd Wright. I know almost nothing about him.

That said, here's his picture. I've started reading his first book, The Story of Utopias (Pub. 1922), which can be found for free, online. Can't say I recommend it.

But old Lewis was a quotable gent, and he did say something I agree with:

“Restore human legs as a means of travel. Pedestrians rely on food for fuel and need no special parking facilities.”

I give that idea a hearty thumbs up.

So there you have it. Three non-reviews of three Mumfords. Consider your time well wasted.
 
 
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Well, my neighbourhood continues to improve.

When I was a kid, the St. Clair West area was a strip of super sketchy store fronts, convenience stores, and fast food restaurants. Now it seems like a bespoke boutique or posh eatery opens every month.

he latest newbie to hit the strip is Clay, a cute little kitchen store from the two couples behind Cocoalatte, a cafe located just three doors down.

(I love CocoaLatte. My only complaint is that their tables are too small and their plates too big... if, like me, you are a glutton. If you're a normal person who orders one thing, you'll be fine.)

The whole family/friend owned business thing is adorable.
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Seriously, how cute are they? (By the way, I don't know these people personally. I just like what they're doing. I'm not a creepy stalker, I swear. The photo was right on their Facebook page. Really.)

Anyway. As with the cafe, the place owes much of its decor to IKEA, but that's just fine. The owners have done wonders with the space. Before they took it over, the building was practically derelict. The renovation has improved it massively.
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In general, I'm into supporting local businesses like this one, but even if I wasn't enamoured with the the whole Clay/CocoaLatte story and the neat indie aesthetic, there are things about the new boutique that I would love:

1. I no longer have to leave the neighbourhood to drool over Le Creuset! Hurray!

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2. If stuck for a hostess/baby gift, they have chic things (from bibs to bowls) to choose from.
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3. The punchy orange and green decor is fresh and bright and very different from the soothing blue of CocoaLatte. And I like that vintage orange chair, the floors, and the little brick wall cut-out behind the cash too. 
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It's early days for this business and as a result, the store feels a teeny bit bare. I have a feeling that will change as time goes on. I really hope these guys succeed. While I'm bummed that the gentrification of the neighbourhood means I'll probably never be able to afford a house here, it's nice to see young people making cool stuff happen.

As you may know, if I could, I'd start a shop of my own. In the meantime, I'll just have to admire.

Clay
659 St. Clair Ave. W.
Toronto, ON
Phone @ CocoaLatte
(416) 792-8696

* All images in this post via cocoalatte on Facebook.
 
 
Ah, Nick Hornby. So funny. So smart. So beloved. I've been reading him for the last 10 years, buying nearly everything, as soon as it became available. But the truth is, I haven't really liked a Hornby book since High Fidelity. And that came out in 1995. Things were better in the 90s. I really believe that. It must mean I'm getting old.
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But I digress. It's not that Hornby's efforts since High Fidelity have been bad, exactly (though some of them have been -- Slam, for example). It's more that most of them have been just okay.

About a Boy was okay. How to be Good was okay-ish. The Polysyllabic Spree was actually very good, but too niche-market to make an impact and too academic and literary to be something I'd widely recommend. It's not accessible.

And then came Juliet, Naked. It arrived back in 2009, and frankly, I've been afraid to begin. What can I say? I was nervous. If the book sucked, I thought I might have to abandon Hornby entirely.

Luckily, it did not suck.


Is Juliet, Naked a great book? No. No way. It's more than just okay, but it's not as good as High Fidelity. Not by a long shot. The problem isn't the writing. Hornby is a lovely writer and is in fine form here. And it's not the story, which is (generally) realistic, relatable and somewhat affecting. It's that (and I hate to say this)...people in their 40s just aren't as interesting or likeable as people in their 20s. Not when they have the exact same issues.

High Fidelity and Juliet, Naked have a lot in common. Perhaps too much. And there's something depressing about that, don't you think? The funny pop culture padding, the emotional turmoil, the bad decisions, the sad relationships... in High Fidelity, this stuff felt good. It made sense. You can't fault young people for trying to understand the world and stumbling along the way. They're learning.

That book was hopeful. This one isn't.

While I found Juliet, Naked relatively enjoyable to read, it was also a bit depressing. I was left thinking that nothing had changed. That nothing would change. Ever. We'll all just go on and on and on, and we'll never get any smarter. And more often than not, the journey will be boring most of the time.

Is that realistic? Sure. But it's not exactly uplifting.