Tag Archives: George Orwell

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.

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).  

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.

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.


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



Down and Out in Paris and London – George Orwell


“He might be ragged and cold or even starving, but so long as he could read, think and watch for meteors, he was, as he said, free in his own mind.”
― George OrwellDown and Out in Paris and London

  • Down and Out copyTitle: Down and Out in Paris and London
  • Author: George Orwell
  • ISBN: 015626224X (ISBN13: 9780156262248)
  • Series: Stand Alone
  • Published: March 15th 1972 by Mariner Books (first published 1933)
  • Format: Paperback
  • Genre/s: Fiction/Memoir
  • Source: Purchased

Before the acclaim of Animal Farm and 1984, before gaining recognition as one of the twentieth century’s greatest and most influential authors, there was poverty. Squalid, extreme, bug-infested poverty. Down and Out in Paris and London, published in 1933, is George Orwell’s autobiographical account of life on the streets, searching for work, searching for food and a place to sleep, pawning clothes for a piece of bread, a cup of tea and a cigarette. His Paris was not the City of Lights, his London was not the height of British splendor. Success meant finding work in a grand hotel restaurant for just enough money to avoid starvation, working seven days a week, seventeen hours a day, standing in slop, serving the oblivious rich patrons on the other side of the kitchen door.who don’t realize that their food was just laying on the floor being picked at by vermin.

When work ended, life meant “tramping” from town to town, sleeping in lodging houses, Salvation Army hostels or on park benches, hoping not to get arrested. At times, there was no food for days, no bathing for weeks. But ironically, Orwell also describes “a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out…and you can stand it. It takes off a lot of anxiety”. Down and Out in Paris and London is Orwell’s descriptive study of poverty in two of the world’s greatest cities. It doesn’t explain why he was poor, how long he was poor or how he escaped from being poor. He just was. It was his existence. And when it ended, he
took his experiences and learnings and moved on.

This unusual fictional account – in good part autobiographical – narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur. In London, while waiting for a job, he experiences the world of tramps, street people, and free lodging houses. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society. – Goodreads

George_OrwellEric Arthur Blair, better known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English author and journalist. His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

He is best known for the dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four” (published in 1949) and the satirical novella “Animal Farm” (1945)—they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book “Homage to Catalonia”, an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.


Surly Joe – The Gambler


In his own words – Surly Joe is a moderately nondescript Toronto-based white guy who spends too much time contemplating the nature of boredom.  His aspirations waver between wanting to be either a professional gambler or a Zen monk, with a touch of writing on the side.  After completing university with a degree in a subject that does not readily lead to any sort of viable employment, he wandered through Europe and Northern Africa for a while collecting stories and useless trivia,  Circumstance led to a career back in Toronto.  He now spends his money on food, friends, wine and annual trips to Las Vegas.

For the record I would like it known that I am far more computer savvy than this clip would have it seem but I couldn’t help but be reminded of exchanges between Joe and I in the past.

As the far more discerning and cultured of the two of us, my plebeian tastes run along the lines of strawberry zinfandel than a full bodied red. Therefore it should be no surprise that Joe would be the one to select George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London as his debut review. I can only hope that you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

Spring Forward – A Talent for Underestimation

For those of you who regularly follow this blog you may have noticed that I seem to accidentally overextend myself from time to time. I cannot tell you the number of times my husband has told me “DO LESS!” As simple a concept as that may seem I am still trying to master it. Annually I put together a book of sorts for my son’s hockey team and somehow the March deadline sneaks up on me, even though this is the third year in a row that I have done it! Regardless of my time management challenges it was my intention to diversify somewhat in 2014 and feature posts and opinions other than those of yours truly and I figured that there is no time like the present in which to do so.

I have been lucky enough to find some truly talented contributors some of whom who have already posted this past winter and some of whom you can look forward to in the coming weeks. I will detail for you below a sampling of the treats we can expect to be reading about.


Bitten (Television Series) – Based on the critically acclaimed series of novels from Kelley Armstrong. Set in Toronto and upper New York State, BITTEN follows the adventures of 28-year-old Elena Michaels, the world’s only female werewolf. An orphan, Elena thought she finally found her “happily ever after” with her new love Clayton, until her life changed forever. With one small bite, the normal life she craved was taken away and she was left to survive life with the Pack.

orwellDown and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell  – This unusual fictional account – in good part autobiographical – narrates without self-pity and often with humor the adventures of a penniless British writer among the down-and-out of two great cities. The Parisian episode is fascinating for its expose of the kitchens of posh French restaurants, where the narrator works at the bottom of the culinary echelon as dishwasher, or plongeur. In London, while waiting for a job, he experiences the world of tramps, street people, and free lodging houses. In the tales of both cities we learn some sobering Orwellian truths about poverty and society.

NANonofficial Asset by William Sewell –Peyton Stone never quit his day job. But it’s his other profession that might just get him killed. 

Islamabad. Baghdad. Shanghai. Kazakhstan, Kabul. Langley. For Peyton Stone, that’s a work commute. But his is no normal job. On the surface he’s a world-renowned security expert. But his real occupation is serving as a “nonofficial asset,” a contractor working for the CIA when the government needs complete deniability. While advancing American interests globally, Stone discovers that those interests can exact a steep personal price. And when his business partner is murdered in a Shanghai hotel, ominous ghosts from his past return and he’s drawn deeper into the covert maze, on the hunt for a stolen nuclear weapon and the rogue Iranian admiral hell-bent on using it. In Nonofficial Asset his skills, training, tactics, mettle, and allegiance to family and country are all pushed to the limit as he races to prevent nuclear catastrophe.