Lexicon is a perfect breakfast book club pick. It's fanciful and plot-driven, and confusing while remaining fun. It's definitely a book that can be discussed with the day's first cup of coffee — especially if you're serving fresh-made biscuits as well.
At an exclusive school somewhere outside of Arlington, Virginia, students aren't taught history, geography, or mathematics--at least not in the usual ways. Instead, they are taught to persuade. Here the art of coercion has been raised to a science. Students harness the hidden power of language to manipulate the mind and learn to break down individuals by psychographic markers in order to take control of their thoughts. The very best will graduate as "poets", adept wielders of language who belong to a nameless organization that is as influential as it is secretive.
Whip-smart orphan Emily Ruff is making a living running a three-card Monte game on the streets of San Francisco when she attracts the attention of the organization's recruiters. She is flown across the country for the school's strange and rigorous entrance exams, where, once admitted, she will be taught the fundamentals of persuasion by Bronte, Eliot, and Lowell--who have adopted the names of famous poets to conceal their true identities. For in the organization, nothing is more dangerous than revealing who you are: Poets must never expose their feelings lest they be manipulated. Emily becomes the school's most talented prodigy until she makes a catastrophic mistake: She falls in love.
Meanwhile, a seemingly innocent man named Wil Jamieson is brutally ambushed by two strange men in an airport bathroom. Although he has no recollection of anything they claim he's done, it turns out Wil is the key to a secret war between rival factions of poets and is quickly caught in their increasingly deadly crossfire. Pursued relentlessly by people with powers he can barely comprehend and protected by the very man who first attacked him, Wil discovers that everything he thought he knew about his past was fiction. In order to survive, must journey to the toxically decimated town of Broken Hill, Australia, to discover who he is and why an entire town was blown off the map.
As the two narratives converge, the shocking work of the poets is fully revealed, the body count rises, and the world crashes toward a Tower of Babel event which would leave all language meaningless. Max Barry's most spellbinding and ambitious novel yet, Lexicon is a brilliant thriller that explores language, power, identity, and our capacity to love--whatever the cost.
"LEXICON" DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
- Is Lexicon the ultimate ode to the phrase "The pen is mightier than the sword"?
- In what ways are words used as weapons, in the novel and in your own life?
- What did this book teach you about language?
- What did you think of the characters' adoption of famous poets' names? Which name would you choose for yourself?
- If you could use words to unlock and control a person's mind, would you? What would you have them do?
- Who do you like better — Wil or Emily? Why?
- What were the most disorienting aspects of this book?
- How did the book's physical violence compare to the havoc words wreaked?
- In your opinion, what are the most powerful words in the English language?
- Can words be intrinsically good or evil?
There aren't many books that can be discussed with gusto over breakfast, but Lexicon is one of them. I suggest you stick with my original recipe pairing, classic flaky biscuits, and also have some fried chicken and compound butters on hand. Set out some of your favorite jams, get your cold brew iced coffee ready a few days in advance and boom. Book club menu made.