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Curse you: Recurring misfortunes as a motif for family saga

Yann Moix’s regrettable comments on women; the role of curses in literature by female African authors; copyright lawsuits; Green Book writer’s regrettable tweet. Welcome back to A Week In Book News.


Council coughed up £19k for infringing author’s copyright

2019. Let’s start with some good news.

London Freelance, the division we belong to under the NUJ, reported that Ian Thornton-Bryar, author, The Lancashire Witches Walk, successfully sued the Lancashire County Council for £19,187 for reproducing his copy without permission on the council’s website.

In 2014, the council published extracts of The Lancashire Witches Walk, originally written to commemorate the 400th Anniversary of the Lancashire Witch Trials. The author complained. The council removed his copy. Then the council republished it a year later. Mr Thornton-Bryar took action.

A similar thing happened to us a few years back. A London council used our photo for a promotional flyer without permission. It didn’t fall under fair use, we didn’t get a credit or have the work linked back to us, and the act of using our photo did not benefit us commercially, only them. We complained via our union and the council paid up.

It’s actually easier and more cost-effective to ask for permission – if you ask in advance. If you can’t pay for content, make your own content.


Choose your own consequence

Also feeling aggrieved at copyright infringement is book publisher Chooseco LLC, who claimed that Netflix has breached its “Choose Your Own Adventure” trademark with the release of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

Bandersnatch, released in December 2018, is a sci-fi film written by Charlie Brooker about a video game creator called Stefan. The plot is non-linear. The viewer gets to choose one of five endings, making this film ideal for digital interactivity.

The main character, Stefan, plans to adapt a “choose your own adventure” book into a video game. Chooseco LLC insisted that the concept and phrase have already been trademarked.

Netflix is now staring at a lawsuit of US$25 million (£19 million).


Green Book writer’s tweet returns to haunt him

The Negro Motorist Green Book.jpgScan of cover (New York Public Library copy), Public Domain


Another story on a travel guide – for motorists. The Negro Motorist Green Book, written by Victor Hugo Green in 1936, is the basis for the film Green Book, starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.

The film got nominated for five categories and won three at the 76th Golden Globe Awards:

  • Supporting Actor – Motion Picture (Mahershala Ali)
  • Screenplay of A Motion Picture (Nick Vallelonga, Brian Hayes Currie and Peter Farrelly)
  • Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy

We are very eager to see the film. Nick Vallelonga co-wrote the screenplay based on the true story of his father, Tony Vallelonga, who drove for the classical and jazz pianist Don Shirley during his eight-week tour in the Deep South.

Positive light on inter-racial friendship, right? And then Jordan Horowitz, producer of 2016 film La La Land, outed Vallelonga on Twitter:

Vallelonga apologised to the Green Book cast and crew, to his father, to Mahershala Ali and members of the Muslim faith for his anti-Muslim tweet. He has since deleted his Twitter account.

The thing is, people change their minds. Sometimes for the better. Nobody says it has to be great initially but that’s how change happens.

So we will give Vallelonga a chance and catch the film. Because The Negro Motorist Green Book gives him a chance to take the higher road.


Yann Who?

We don’t know what author Yann Moix is famous for because we don’t read French. But we now know what he is disliked for: his loathing of women above the age of 50, his preference of a 25-year-old’s body and his penchant for Asian women.

Well, Yann Moix is the French version of VS Naipaul and not many Asian women that we know find his misogyny appealing.

Moix said he’s had it already with “white women”. We think that’s because they ripped his bollocks off.

We look forward to him sinking into obscurity soon.


The role of curses in literature

Photo credits: The Barefoot Woman (Archipelago Books), Kintu (Oneworld), Season of the Shadow (Seagull Books / The University of Chicago Press Books), She Would Be King (Graywolf Press).

We’re pretty much Darwinists at Story Of Books, so whilst stories like the Curse of Ham or The Mark of Cain sounds interesting to us, we view them as nothing more than an interesting material for a novel. Or a movie.

Sadly, people took these rather opaque biblical curses seriously in the past and used it to justify slavery and to subjugate people based on their skin colour. This is the heart of the discussion on The New York Times Book Review podcast about the function of curses in African literature by women.

“A curse is a story we tell ourselves when there is a misfortune of such size that is so out of the ordinary that it requires a deeper explanation,” said book reviewer Julian Lucas to the host Pamela Paula as an introduction to the podcast.

He noted that curses can be a feature in family novels, for example, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s gothic novel The House of Seven Gables. The curse provides central motif of what binds the family for generations in the form of repeated events or things that happen when their ancestors did “such and such”. Lucas said: “We create narratives to feel connected to the beginning and the end, particularly the beginning and the end of the grand sweep of history… story that transcends our own life. Curses provide that way in.”

The podcast looked at novels from four African countries:

The novels were described as “sweeping epics”. Not all are about curses in the shamanic sense. She Would Be King and Season of The Shadow focus on the consequence of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, playing on the theme that people who are the most vulnerable are often perceived as “cursed” and isolated by society.

The curse narrative is used to rewrite the history, enabling the authors to reach their redemptive conclusions in the novels. That is a very good point of view, so hats off to The New York Times Book Review for discussing this. You can listen to Julian Lucas and Pamela Paul discussing the works here: