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The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

The Word Exchange

by Alena Graedon

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5476729,385 (3.26)41
"A fiendishly clever dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange is a fresh, stylized, and decidedly original debut about the dangers of technology and the power of the printed word"--
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Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
It’s been a long time since I read a book like this, and I hope it will be a long time before I read another. This is the only book I have ever read that by the magic page number of 119, I literally threw it aside in disgust. To say it is a mess of ideas would be being generous, and I’m afraid to say I found it just to be a mess.

The main female protagonist is whiny and just downright annoying, coupled with her is the downright stalkerish alternate narrator combining into two characters I neither liked nor wanted to be bothered reading about anymore. None of the other lesser characters shone through the pages either, and this would have been a redeeming factor that would have made me continue reading.

As any follower of my reviews will know by now, it takes a lot for me to actually close a book unfinished, but I found the footnotes and the sometimes having to refer to a dictionary to understand what the Author was writing about too much to bear. In my opinion it was a very verbose piece of writing with very little plot and far too time consuming to be considered a novel. If this had been written as non-fiction and a reflection on current society’s reliance on technology to the detriment of everything else it would have been much better received by myself; as it was it was relegated to the pile of books I will be parting with shortly.

The only saving grace that kept it from receiving zero thumbs was the cover. I liked it a great deal and spent quite a time trying to link the cover images with the plot of the book. I love the English language and the words that are no longer in general use, and this was what attracted me to it in the first place, however over use of the language was a big turn off and because of this I feel I really can’t recommend this book to anyone.

Originally reviewed on: http://catesbooknuthut.com/2015/07/10/review-the-word-exchange-alena-graedon/

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
( )
  TheAcorn | Nov 8, 2019 |
Continuing on in my quest for books that I lost track of during my early days on NetGalley, we come to one of the few books on the list I remember requesting--and being very irritated when I'd found I'd run out of time for it. That was about all I remembered about it. Reading the blurb brought back basic memories of why I would have requested it, but all in all, I was excited.

I got way more than I bargained for with this one.

The book is told in alternating perspectives: half in the voice of Anana Johnson--more commonly called "Alice" throughout the book--who is the daughter of one of the more prominent people working at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (or NADEL for short). The other half is one of Anana's colleagues at NADEL, Bart Tate. The world has become almost completely digital, the era of "print media" all but completely eliminated. Doug, Ana's father, is staunchly against the tech-takeover, and is in the process of publishing what will be the final edition of the NADEL print dictionary--when he suddenly goes missing, leaving only the name ALICE as a clue: his code for a situation where something bad has fallen on him. And as this "Alice" takes her trip down the rabbit hole, a "word flu" begins to infect the population and suddenly, something as solid as the definition of words is more influx than should be possible...

The creation of the world itself is fascinating. Memes--which have replaced cell phones and are infinitely more useful/terrifying--remind me a great deal of the tech hinted at in the movie Her, which was equally fascinating and terrifying. The Meme can determine how you're feeling, reorder groceries for you, answer emails and phone calls, play music, schedule appointments... In many ways, it's kind of the Internet of Things, or Amazon's Alexa, all made into your phone--and pretty much everything else. And on the Meme we have the Word Exchange, a quick way to check the meaning of a more obscure word you hear in everyday life for a pittance of a cost to the company. But the more people begin to rely on the Exchange and their Memes for information, the less they let themselves think on their own...which leads into the edges of the word flu.

I love the name Meme. I just have to put that first. It's brilliant. Because in many ways, we're heading down this route already. There are some frightening correlations to popular culture, which makes it a very clever commentary on reliance on technology and the "death" of the printed book. (I've already stated my arguments on that, so I shan't repeat myself.) The actual conveyance of the "word flu" is fascinating, and I found myself comparing it to Nadsat, as if we were watching the world fall into what would become the setting of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE. (And, I'll note, they used the term "droog" once, which made me insufferably happy.) It never becomes impossible to read, though eventually the aphasia does claim the coherency of some of the characters, and it's fun to try and piece together the bits we're missing.

I also got a few callbacks to my read-through of Tony Noland's VERBOSITY'S VENGEANCE (and had my own feeling of needing the Word Exchange) with some of the vocabulary. Despite the fact that I often find myself with a larger vocabulary than many of my peers, this one stretched me to the limits of my knowledge on occasion. I've seen a few reviews comment that the thesaurus-grabbing element of this kind of writing comes off as pretentious and hokey, but given that all our narrators work--literally--for a dictionary, I don't see any issue with it. Bart routinely quotes people I've never heard of. These people know all the words. ALL the words. And I bet they use most of them.

It ended about the way I expected it to, but as I hope for in any book, I was invested enough in the characters and just uncertain enough about the outcome to keep me turning pages until the end. (And besides, I HAD to find out how Bart's storyline concluded. I had to. And it ended exactly as I really wanted. I have every hope for him, in every regard.)

I do find Ana's apparent complete lack of knowledge of who Charles Dodgson is a little astounding, given the prevalence of Alice in Wonderland references, but given how late in the book this takes place, I'm willing to give her a bit of the benefit of the doubt with all she's been through. But still.

In the end, a very smart and highly enjoyable book, and a very clever dig at all of us in turn. I love books that make me think. And this does just that.

Rating: **** (Recommended) ( )
  KOrionFray | Oct 5, 2019 |
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.
  Gmomaj | Sep 10, 2019 |
Oh my! Is this a warning? I think the author had an several agendas, most of which I am in sympathy with. While I thought it went on too long, with too much detail, I really enjoyed some of the pithy phrases, which give an idea of the plot of the story: Profit driven malware, User-machine integration, Communicable incommunication ( )
  steller0707 | Aug 25, 2019 |
Interesting take on what could happen if we let digital devices take over our minds and our vocabulary. ( )
  rmarcin | Jan 22, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Readers will recognize just from this outline traces of many other books, from Emberton to Stephen King’s Cell and Tony Burgess’s language-virus classic Pontypool Changes Everything. These echoes only highlight how deep a cultural anxiety Graedon is addressing. Anana is not alone in seeing something end-of-the-worldish in the war on the word
added by ozzer | editToronto Star, Alex Good (Apr 11, 2014)
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"I am not yet so lost in lexicography as to forget that words are the daughters of the earth, and that things are the sons of heaven."
—Samuel Johnson, preface to A Dictionary of the English Language
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I chose it to mean—neither more nor less."
"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."
"The question is," said Humpty Dumpty, "which is to be master—that's all."
—Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
"As a boy, I used to marvel that the letters in a closed book did not get scrambled and lost overnight."
—Jorge Luis Borges, "The Aleph"
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On a very cold and lonely Friday last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.
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