Kenneth Lewes first made a name for himself with his scholarly psychology book, Psychoanalysis and Homosexuality, a history of how psychiatry warped Freud’s views on homosexuality to fit their own agendas. He has now turned to fiction, publishing his first novel, The Book Worm, a meta espionage thriller, positing a terrorist underground that is able to communicate in code: literary references that leave the hopelessly non-literary military in the dark. The hero is, of course, on the side of the terrorists. Scott Telek of Cinema de Merde draws the author out.
The Bookworm is an exciting and fast-paced thriller. At the same time it’s literate and very funny. How did you come up with the idea?
I have confession to make. Until recently I was hopelessly addicted to espionage movies and action thrillers. But whenever I left the cineplex, I always had to wonder why the producers seem unwilling or unable to include believable characters, interesting dialogue or any concept that hadn’t been lifted straight from the latest video game. So I thought I’d try my hand at a better combination of sex and violence, and at the same time slip in some literate fun.
But you’re no longer addicted?
No, I’m not. The pre-show entertainment did it for me. Between those dreadful previews, where the actors talk about what a meaningful experience it all was, and then an almost identical trailer, I had it. I’ve sworn off going to the movies, at least for a while.
Your book plays on serious issues regarding surveillance and terrorism, but it’s quick and humorous. Were there points at which you had to tone down the seriousness for fear of bogging the book down?
I wanted to make the book fun to read. No one wants to hear some old fart ranting and wheezing about the younger generation, least of all the author himself. In any case If you can put your sense of outrage aside for a minute or two, there are plenty of things you can find funny if you have an eye for them. The real problem was trying to stay abreast of the latest stupidities. I thought I had gone too far in my description of the airport of the near future. But the last time I had to take a plane, I discovered my fantasy was already out of date.
How would you respond to someone who claimed that your book promotes terrorism? The latest generation of Americans may one day hold the record for being the most conservative, smug and ignorant group of consumers in the history of this country—at least since the one my parents belonged to.
I would ignore him.
The latest generation of Americans may one day hold the record for being the most conservative, smug and ignorant group of consumers in the history of this country—at least since the one my parents belonged to.
Your main character begins the book living in another country and disengaged from the American political scene. Do you think that young Americans are apathetic and disengaged?
What do you think? Look around you, as one of the characters in my book suggests. The latest generation of Americans may one day hold the record for being the most conservative, smug and ignorant group of consumers in the history of this country—at least since the one my parents belonged to. I know what you’re going to say. I should look around at the new spirit of protest and all the wonderful new ecology movements that are springing up like mushrooms.
Well, I think that there does seem to be a much greater wish for involvement on the part of younger people, which seems to be a reaction to the mindless consumerism of their parents.
I’m not impressed. Does any sane person believe we can save our poor planet by alphabetizing our garbage?
Do you think that something can be done to make them more engaged?
You know the old joke. How many psychotherapists does it take to change a light-bulb? Only one, but the light-bulb has to want to be changed. It’s the same with the latest generation of light-bulbs. They seem to be perfectly happy to lie back and have their pockets picked, their brains washed and their birthrights stolen from them. The only thing I can imagine that would cause these consumers to take to the streets in protest would be having their cell-phones confiscated.
With the secret language that the underground movement in your novel communicates in, you are obviously making a point about the level of literacy in this country. Are we at the point where literacy has become its own secret language?
I think we may be. Did you know that a recent translation of the Bible changed St. Paul’s “once I was stoned” to “once I received a stoning”? This new version may thoughtfully prevent some minimally literate believers from misunderstanding the text, but I wonder what they’re going to do about “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s ass.”
I guess there just aren’t many people out there still reading their Bibles.
Oh, but there are. They’re just the wrong people.
Why don’t people read books any more?
It’s a great mystery, isn’t it? I suppose it has something to do with everybody’s sense that language has been hopelessly corrupted. We’re surrounded by it constantly, but all it ever tries to do is sell us something. Young people should know better, but they don’t. They’re very well aware that they’re being milked like cash-cows and lied to every waking minute of the day, but they seem to think that Jane Austen is the villain. So they would never be seen picking up a real book. But they’re content to go around like walking ads for the corporations, proudly sporting the logo of their favorite designer stenciled on the front of their t-shirts. Still, books have had a pretty good run, don’t you think? It’s been five and a half centuries since Gutenberg.
So then who is the villain?
Who else? Money and advertising, of course.
In your book, the young main character and his father come to represent resistance and repression, respectively. Do you think that youth almost always tends toward rebellion and age toward conservatism?
Not at all. There are several aged revolutionaries in my novel, just as there are some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young fascists. I do think that there may be a tendency for young people to entertain the possibility of doing things in a new, better way, just as there may be corresponding tendency– at least there used to be– for the old to value things that are beautiful or otherwise worth preserving. The problem nowadays, at least as I see it, is that young people have been bribed and corrupted into wanting things that are not in the least worth having.
Who are you favorite fashion deisgners?
I love them all– every single one.