The Word Exchange

April 24, 2014 Fiction, Literary 16

18209339Title: The Word Exchange
Author: Alena Graedon
Source: from publisher for review
Rating: ★★★★★
Review Summary: This book uses words in the most fantastic and beautiful of ways. It made me think, it made me work, and it completely won me over. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book crafted with more attention to detail and it was a joy to read.

In the future, even definitions can be bought and sold. Books have essentially become obsolete. Technology has advanced to the point where people can relive memories, create art with no talent or training, and access any information they like without knowing anything. Anana’s father is one of the last anti-technology hold outs and is also responsible for publishing what will almost certainly be the last print dictionary. Right before publication Anana’s father disappears, leaving only a cryptic clue suggesting that he’s in grave danger. As Anana tries to find out what happened to him, she stumbles onto a conspiracy larger than she ever could have imagined. She’ll find herself in danger too as a mysterious word flu spreads, because language is power and some people will do whatever it takes to control that power themselves.

I loved this book so much, I’m not sure I can add anything new to the many rave reviews I’ve already read. Everything about it was fantastic. The plot was action packed and full of surprising twists and turns. The futuristic world the author imagined didn’t seem like a stretch, but was still completely mind-blowing. Despite the dangers of the technologies so readily adopted in this future world, some of the conveniences and entertainments sound like a dream. The author’s imaginings actually reminded me a lot of the non-fiction book Physics of the Future by Michio Kaku because it pushed me to think  about the true wonders technology could achieve in the not too distant future. The science wasn’t explained in detail, but was  described enough that I found it believable. It seemed the biology and technology had been very well researched, which is a sure way for an author to win me over. The narrators (Anana and one of her co-workers) were very endearing. I loved the way their relationship progressed, because it felt so natural. I also thought the author did an impressive job writing from the two perspectives in ways that were distinctly different and fit each character’s personality.

Of course, even with a rocking plot, an imaginative setting, and great characters, the real star of this book was always going to be the writing. The author’s love of words shines from every page. The unusual words the author sprinkles liberally throughout the text gave me ample opportunity to enjoy the irony of looking up words on my smartphone while reading a book about the dangers of relinquishing too much knowledge in favor of technology. I’m not sure if the author used these complex words simply because she loved them or if she was also pointing out that authors can write for the intelligent reader. Either way, I think that point was made. I wish words like those the author used would make it into our everyday parlance. I enjoyed that the author trusted me, the reader, to understand her beautiful and clever use of words. I also think it’s a great demonstration of the way an author’s assumptions about the reader’s linguistic abilities can actually shape the language readers know. The large words did make reading a bit of work, but it was very rewarding work.

I was also impressed with the way the book was designed. Each chapter began with a definition, one chapter for each letter in the alphabet. These definitions were sometimes those the words might have in the future and sometimes clearly just intended to make a point. They were often funny and always thought-provoking. I know this won’t be for everyone, but I also liked the use of footnotes. There are two criticisms I could see being leveled at this book. First, the digressions about words and philosophy do slow the plot a bit. And second, these digressions can get pretty pretentious, especially the bits on philosophy. However, this goes back to what I said about this book being worthwhile work. The author has constructed her book very cleverly and is making a passionate argument for the power of the written word, both through what she’s written and how she’s written it. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book constructed with more care and that attention to detail made this a joy to read.


16 Responses to “The Word Exchange”

    • DoingDewey

      I’m glad to hear it! It didn’t work for everyone, as you can see in the goodreads reviews, but for me, I think it’s easily going to be one of the best books I read this year. I thought the plot, the characters, and the writing were all brilliant 🙂

    • DoingDewey

      It was very inventive! The technology really reminded me of the wonder I felt reading Michio Kaku’s book about where technology could go in the future. It’s pretty awe inspiring! And I agree that it raised some great questions. So many of the technologies in the book sound like things I would love to have, an interesting contrast with the dangers it poses in the book.

    • DoingDewey

      I feel a bit predictable for saying this, but I’ve loved pretty much every book I’ve ever read about books or the English language. Part of me feels like writing a book about books is a bit of a gimmicky way to draw in readers who, of course, like books, but I can’t help it. Show me a character who loves to read and I’ll show you a character I can probably relate to 🙂

  1. April @ The Steadfast Reader


    I did love this book so much. I don’t have much to add except that I’m really glad you did too. 🙂

    Honestly, I think that part of my slump is partially still a book hangover from this read. I don’t know if that’s amazing or awful.

  2. Cayce

    Oh, I love sci-fi and this book sounds really good. I’ve added it to my tbr too 🙂 Thanks for the great review!!

    • DoingDewey

      I loved it so much! I’m glad to hear you’re adding it to your tbr because it’s one of those books that was so good, I just wanted to go give people copies when I finished reading it 🙂

  3. Charlene @ Bookish Whimsy

    I haven’t heard of this one but it sounds so exciting and different! I love that it pays homage to language and words! And it sounds like it will be helpful in expanding my vocabulary. 😀 Great review!

    • DoingDewey

      I wish I had the vocabulary necessary to read this book without constantly referencing a dictionary. The author’s use of language is beautiful and brilliant and if our everyday conversation were like that, I think it would be wonderful!

    • DoingDewey

      It’s true, you do! I think it’s going to easily be one of the best books I’ve read this year, it was so brilliantly well done.

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