Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
It’s been fairly quiet around here this week. Apologies – I was sick. I don’t get sick often, a tradition I would like to continue, but when I do I cannot be bothered to do anything.
It was therefore surprising that I was able to finish Alena Graedon’s The Word Exchange.
The plot of this one is quite complex so I’m going to use the synopsis provided on the publisher’s website so as not to inadvertently ruin anything if you decide to read this:
“Books, libraries, and newspapers have at last become things of the past. Now handheld Memes allow for constant communication and entertainment. They can even anticipate our needs, dialing the doctor before we know we’re sick, or prompting us with words we can’t recall. Yet a few dedicated wordsmiths are still laboring on the final print edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. But one evening, right before it’s released, Anana Johnson finds that the chief editor—her father—has vanished.
In alternating points of view, Anana and her bookish colleague Bart follow their only clue, the word ALICE, down the proverbial rabbit hole, into subterranean passages, the stacks of the Mercantile Library, and secret meetings of an anti-Meme underground resistance, racing closer to the truth about Anana’s father’s disappearance, and discovering a frightening connection to the growing “word flu” pandemic. “
I think this book is one that gets better the more you sit with it. While I was reading it, I was often frustrated by the vocabulary used, ironically using my own smart-phone to look up words that I didn’t know the meanings of. Reading Bart’s chapters was even worse – he becomes infected with the word flu and whole parts of his speech are in gibberish. Reading it, I wanted to throw the book across the room. But now, I understand what Graedon was trying to accomplish.
But now that I’ve finished the book, I appreciate what Graedon was doing. She was making a point (maybe a little heavy handedly…) – we are losing language. The simple fact that I have to look up words in a book that I’m reading is probably not a good sign. The setting of The Word Exchange isn’t that far into the future – less than 10 years for sure. A lot of the world will be very familiar to readers –people addicted to their phones, letting them do their thinking for them, not even carrying ID anymore because their phones hold all the info they need. So while the idea of a word flu is hyperbolic, it serves to underscore the severity of our own dependence on our devices, the loss of language as we give in to lols, ICYMI, and brb.
The Word Exchange offers a great cure: reading, writing and silence. That’s a message I can totally get behind.
If you liked Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore or Ready Player One (I haven’t read this one but my husband, brother, brother-in-law and librarian friend all rave about it), I suspect you will like The Word Exchange.