The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Publication date: April 8, 2014 by Doubleday
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:
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.
In the not so distant future, the forecasted "death of print" has
become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers and magazines are a
thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called
Memes that not only keep us in constant communication, but have become
so intuitive as to hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order take
out 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 final 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 video-conference) to communicate--or even actually spoke to one
antoher for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL
offices leaving a single writen clue: ALICE. It's a code word he and
Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm's way. And
thus begins Anana's journey down the proverbial rabbit hole. . .
Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague (who is secretly in love
with her), Anana's search for Doug will take her into dark basement
incinerator rooms, underground passages of the Mercantile Library,
secret meetings of the anonymous "Diachronic Society," the boardrooms of
the evil online retailing site Synchronic, and ultimately to the
hallowed halls of the Oxford English Dictionary--the spiritual home of
the written word. As Ana pieces togehter what is going on, and Bart gets
sicker and sicker with the strange "Word flu" that has spread worldwide
causing people to speak in gibberish, Alena Graedon crafts a fresh,
cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller, and a
throughtful meditation on the price of technology and the unforeseen,
though very real, dangers of the digital age.
The premise of The Word Exchange intrigued very much, so I had to give it a go. As a reluctant, but eventual ebook reader, I still love physical books and am continually drawn to them. The ideas about the dangers of digital books, magazines, etc. are always exciting and enticing for me.
I was drawn into the story from the first page of the book. I love words and the author's love of words is obvious from the beginning. I loved the table of contents - the three sections to the book are: Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis; each chapter within those sections are labeled as a letter to the alphabet and the chapter begins like a dictionary entry. What self-respecting book geek wouldn't love that?
I love the quirky characters, Anana (also Alice), Bart (for Bartleby, of course), Doug, Phineas -- the one character I didn't like was Max, the ex-boyfriend and all-around jerk.
I thought the book was a great romp from the start. I loved the way the 'word flu' crept into the characters' conversations and writing. It was fun to see a "word" and know it wasn't really a word, but the speaker was sure that it was. There are many references to Alice in Wonder and Through the Looking-glass - which I loved, of course.
While the book is great fun from start to finish, there are also cautionary notes throughout. I found that many of them fed into my own concerns while still remaining hopeful about our future and respectful and loving towards the written word in whatever format.
This is a book that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys word, books, reading, dictionaries in particular and a good story.