The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon (Part 1 of 2)

In some ways language is like love. It only means something when it’s directed toward another person. But language can change, or get corrupted. People can disappear. And love doesn’t. Real love never goes away. – The Word Exchange

  • WE-3D-v2Title: The Word Exchange
  • Author: Alena Graedon
  • ISBN 0385537662 (ISBN13: 9780385537667)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: April 8th 2014 by Doubleday
  • Format: Hardcover
  • Genre/s: Speculative Fiction/Dystopian
  • Print Length: 384 pages
  • Source: Publisher
  • Rating: A

Before my husband, I had one great love. A love that strangely enough defined me in many ways, I was twelve. I know every love when you are twelve feels epic, and in retrospect I know that we were not Cathy and Heathcliff by any means but that doesn’t diminish the impact that this relationship had on the person I am today. I don’t remember precisely how our conversation began on that fateful day but when he looked at me and said “you are extremely loquacious,” it resonated. At the time I had no idea what it meant and when I asked him, like all twelve year old boys he lied about the definition but it was clear that he indeed knew what it meant. It could be said that my love of words sprang from this innocuous exchange.

lo·qua·cious
adjective
1. tending to talk a great deal; talkative.
synonyms: talkative, voluble, communicative, expansive, garrulous, unreserved, chatty, gossipy, gossiping; More informal having the gift of (the) gab, gabby, gassy, motor mouthed, talky, windy

When I came across the synopsis for The Word Exchange I knew that I had to read it. Prior to the above exchange I was already a book lover but as every girl knows there is not much that we will not to do to impress a boy. It was not a great leap to realize that I needed to be smart to nab someone who in casual conversation tossed out verbal salvos like the above. I will not sport with your sensibilities describing the lengths that I went to, to catch my quarry but suffice it to say that it is not surprising that after two libraries I ended up working in the media industry, specifically newspapers. Not only as a book lover but as a professional the implied threat to print media has real and tangible significance to me. 

In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .

Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

The Word Exchange is quite literally a smart book, written by an even smarter woman with whom I had the great privilege of discussing this Orwellian type tale. After I stopped hyperventilating over the prospect of having to actually speak to someone without the dubious protection of email or other electronic means I embraced the opportunity to find out a bit more about Anana, the Word Exchange, the diachronic society and anything else that may have occurred to me, I will detail the results of that fascinating conversation in The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon (Part 2).  

di·a·chron·ic
adjective
1. of or pertaining to the changes in a linguistic system between successive points in time; historical: diachronic analysis.

I found The Word Exchange to be a tense, entirely too plausible exploration of the threat to language which had me looking askance at my beloved iPhone particularly when I discovered the beautifully narrated audio version. This may not seem outwardly problematic until you actually read, or listen to in my case, the story. In the not to distant future almost everyone is in possession of a Meme, a device that takes care of all the little details and more than a few larger tasks in life, like hailing a cab, ordering a meal, streaming limns in place of reading books to name a just a few. Following a devastating breakup with her lover Anana had been spending a lot of her time with her father Doug. Without warning he misses their regularly scheduled dinner date and Anana is at first unconcerned, Doug being the absent minded scholar type but when she searches him out at his office in the Word Exchange where they both are employed she comes across a trail that is at first perplexing and then increasingly alarming as time passes with no sign of her father. Assisted by co-worker and friend Bart she is determined to locate Doug. A journey so bizarre it is not unlike Alice’s trip down the infamous rabbit hole.

Coincidentally or so it may seem an insidious affliction is spreading, flu like symptoms of varying severity accompanied by aphasia. This malady in its most extreme form proves fatal but what if anything does it have to do with The Word Exchange or by extension her father.

a·pha·sia
noun
1. the loss of a previously held ability to speak or understand spoken or written language, due to disease or injury of the brain.

Through bread crumb like clues Anana learns that Doug may have had some inkling of the spread of “Word Flu” as it comes to be called and becomes even more desperate to find him. A glorious combination of mystery, love story and societal commentary Graedon in The Word Exchange has uncannily highlighted a possible outcome of our fascination and growing dependence on technology. I cannot recommend it highly enough, only keep your dictionary or “Meme” on hand to give you the definitions of some of the truly impressive examples of vocabulary used throughout.

Disclaimer: ARC was kindly provided by the publisher for an honest review.

RELATED ARTICLES:

Technology is changing how we read, write and reason, as a growing number of critics suggest. Television has long been accused of making us stupid, but now the Internet, though overflowing with text, is also blamed. In an essay in The Atlantic last year, the technology writer Nicholas Carr argued that the power-skimming, link-hopping and window-toggling that define the Internet experience have eroded the old practice of reading unbroken stretches of prose, with grave implications for our writing.

E-mail, meanwhile, has become a linguistic wasteland — even among language lovers. Cellphone keypads make us promise to “call u back after the mtg.” Twitter coaxes us to misspell to meet the 140-character maximum. Blogs, though they seek to bring out the writer in us, are notable for how little stress they put on the actual writing. How many literary greats has the rise of the blogosphere produced? Anand Giridharadas, Language as a Blunt Tool of the Digital Age, The New York Times

 

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