Book Fight!

Tough love for literature


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Episode 62: Peter Sotos, Mine

Before we get into any details about the book, let’s just get a big TRIGGER WARNING out of the way up top. This novel, the last of the year’s donor picks, is deeply disturbing, and contains material that could trigger anyone who’s had personal experience with child abuse, pedophilia, or sexual assault. Hell, this book could probably trigger someone who hasn’t experienced any of that stuff, but just has a normal level of human empathy and sensitivity to suffering.

That said, we do our best in the episode to stay away from the most graphic stuff. We do read a couple excerpts, but they’re on the tamer side (there were plenty of passages we annotated, in the margins, with comments like “Yikes” and “Oh, Christ”). We do, however, talk (in a non-graphic way) about child pornography, child abductions, and issues surrounding pedophilia–it would be impossible to talk about the book without doing so. And it’s possible this book does have merit, beyond the merely shocking.

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While Sotos is an author interested in transgression, as his other works would attest, Mine‘s exploration of the psychology behind men who consume child pornography, and those who actually go so far as to abuse children, could deepen a reader’s understanding of that sort of mind, well beyond what you might get from To Catch a Predator, or an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Which, though disturbing, is work someone should probably be doing. As we discuss during the episode, however, it’s never entirely clear what the book’s point of view is, and a lot of its arguments and analysis seem intentionally opaque. How much of the “I” voice belongs to Sotos himself, for instance? How much of the book is collage-work from other sources?

What many people know about the author–if they know about him at all–is that in the mid-80s he was convicted for possession of child pornography. Though even that’s complicated, as he purportedly had those images–which came from an underground publication called Incest–because he was using them to construct a boundary-pushing, transgressive zine called Pure, which was devoted to serial killer lore. In interviews, too, Sotos often seems a bit cagey about his own relationship to the material he writes about, and the taboo desires explored in his work. You can read this interview he did with the publisher of Nine-Banded Books, which issued the paperback edition of Mine, to get a sense for how he talks about his work, and others’ interpretations of it.

OK, so if you’ve read all that, and are still interested, rather than simply grossed out, please check out the episode, which you can stream below. You can also find us in the iTunes store, where you can download individual episodes or subscribe (for free) so you never miss another installment. If you have opinions about Sotos, this book, or anything else we talked about on the episode, feel free to leave a comment below, send us an email, or hit us up on Twitter.

Also this week, we’ve got our first official rebuttal! Joshua Isard, former guest and author of Conquistador of the Uselesss, took issue with our panning of Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question in Episode 58. So, being the democratically minded dudes we are, we gave him some time to weigh in. That starts around the 30-minute mark, if you’d like to hear Josh’s (well-reasoned, actually) take on the book, but don’t think you’re up for the rest of the episode.

We’ve also got a blurb, for a donor whose name we’re not going to write on the website, so that she’s not forever SEO-linked to a book about kiddie porn. And our usual MATRs. In fact, here’s the link promised in Mike’s recommendation: after you’ve bathed in the filth of Mine, take a cold shower and then listen to some good tunes. Who loves ya, baby? (Probably lots of people, actually, but add us to the list.)

Honestly, we’ve probably oversold the ick factor of the episode itself (if not the book). We’re certainly not wallowing in the book’s gorier details, but instead trying to decide how we should read it, and what it might add to the body of psychological knowledge about pedophilia, child abuse, and violence against children.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

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