The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Published in: 2014
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by: Jen
Find it/buy it here: The Word Exchange
I received a copy of The Word Exchange in my Book Riot subscription box for the technology theme. It’s not a book I would have chosen on my own and only ended up reading it because it was assigned for a reading challenge. Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by the book and probably should retract my earlier comments about how awful I found that particular Book Riot box (although the book extras were still pretty lousy). Check out why I think it’s worth a read.
The New York Times aptly describes The Word Exchange as “a nervy, nerdy dystopic thriller.” In a world even more consumed by technology than our current world (just barely), a highly contagious virus is infecting people through their computers and hand-held devices. Called the “word flu,” the virus attacks people’s ability to communicate, substituting real words with nonsense words and making communications break down. 27 year-old Anana is the daughter of a famous lexicographer who goes missing in the midst of the word flu crisis. The search for her father takes her into the heart of the problem with the virus and its links to newest handheld device.
As I mentioned earlier, I had been putting off reading this book since it arrived in my Book Riot box about four months ago. Honestly, I’ve had my fill of dystopian literature. I feel like the dystopian market is over saturated and it’s rare to find anything very original. But this one was an exception.
The New York Times is right: it is a nerdy dystopic thriller. It was fun, engaging, and smart. I loved how Graedon incorporated some language theory and fair amounts of Hegel into the book. I also found the way she wrote about the language disintegration to be clever. As characters in Graedon’s world begin to suffer the effects of the world flu, their dialogue becomes interspersed with nonsense words. For example:
The night he was here, I couldn’t sleep. He slept fine – I could tell by the forte sounds of snoring spilling from my room – but I just zali on the couch, wide awake. In the morning I cased the lest to the bodega for empanadas and juice. But as soon as he left, cross and glossy with antibiotic cream, I got in the A, which has just started zoress again, running local and took it 140 blocks down.
The deficits are only recognizable to those listening to them (Graedon has done her research on aphasias), including the reader. Initially, we can understand the meaning behind the sentences but, as their illnesses progress, the nonsense words take over and understanding becomes virtually impossible.
Graedon pushes the idea of how our reliance on technology can push us to lose our ability to have meaningful relationships with others (in this case through loss of language). I have a smartphone and I’m on social media a LOT but I also hate the fact that my smartphone feels like an extra appendage. While I personally wouldn’t worry about the kind of scenario that Graedon proposes in her book, I do agree that technology has had a huge impact on our ability to communicate with each other. My husband and I try to limit screen time and we have a rule of no screens at the breakfast/lunch/dinner table. Meal time is for face-to-face family discussion and communication. Our daughter often complains about our no screen rule because even at restaurants she will point to the other tables around us and show us how many kids are sitting at tables playing with phones or tablets. I find it sad to see so many families out at dinner with each family member sitting there staring at their own screen instead of engaging in conversation.
Anyway, back to the book. Graedon raises some interesting questions and uses language theory to make her “flu” more believable. I didn’t love the ending (it was alright, but not my favorite part of the book) but I did like the messaging behind the storyline and as an avid reader, I was appreciative of the importance that reading print books played in slowing down the word flu. In the Book Riot box we got a letter the author created especially for the box that included information about what happened next and was “written” by one of the characters to another character. That was a fun addition. Overall an entertaining read that was different and more intelligent than your typical dystopian fare.
Want to try the novel for yourself? You can find it here: The Word Exchange.
Have you read the book? What did you think? Does it sound interesting to you?
And if you haven’t seen this short film about cellphone addiction, you should check it out.