Saturday, March 29, 2014
Review: THE WORD EXCHANGE
TITLE: THE WORD EXCHANGE
BY: ALENA GRAEDON
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.
RATING: 3 OUT OF 5 STARS
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review
This book had everything I love: words, dystopia, romance, conspiracy, epidemic, action, developed characters, a unique and innovative plot…it’s basically an emporium of all the magical things I crave in fiction. So why am I not wild for it?
The first quarter of the book had me glued. I was curious and enthralled by Gaedon’s world and the story she was weaving. Such a fabulously rare idea executed with creativity and inspiration. For me, it was somewhat reminiscent of Ayn Rand’s, ANTHEM, a first literary love of mine. For a quarter of the book I was on a high, giddy with anticipation for how epic the book, and my love for it, would be…Except, it didn’t really turn out the way I imagined. Somewhere along the way my enthusiasm for THE WORD EXCHANGE fizzled and burned out.
I think the foremost culprit for this was its lengthy exposition, which I felt they should have trimmed significantly. There were anecdotes and tangents that superseded their point and went into overkill, much of it completely irrelevant to the plot and did not further the story. Perhaps, it was Gaedon’s intentions to offer her readers a really in depth understanding of the characters/their memories/surroundings/etc, but it was shark-infested-waters deep. This eventually led me to do a lot of skim reading, which I hate doing because I don’t want to miss out on a tiny, but important detail, but I was getting restless.
While I appreciated what Gaedon did, and the way she chose to execute it (THE WORD EXCHANGE really is a form of literary art), I just wasn’t on her level. At first, I enjoyed having to look up so many obfuscating words, but it didn’t last. It was time consuming and it took me out of the story. (Yes, Gaedon, I see what you did there). The book was not completely to blame for my boredom. It’s also my personality type. This is a book a reader isn’t meant to rush through, it’s a book to be absorbed, every nuance and detail appreciated. I’m just not that reader. I have a short attention span. No matter how brilliant or clever something is, if it’s dragged out I lose interest.
THE WORD EXCHANGE is not a light, easy read unless you have the vocabulary of a Spelling Bee World Champion (or an MFA in creative writing), and the patience and concentration of a generation not accustomed to instant gratification. But even if you’re like me, it doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from this reading experience. Whether it’s a new word or how you view technology/language/communication, this book will assuredly teach you something new.