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The Word Exchange: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Alena Graedon
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (149 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.95
Kindle Price: $11.99
You Save: $14.96 (56%)
Sold by: Random House LLC


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Book Description

A dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange offers an inventive, suspenseful, and decidedly original vision of the dangers of technology and of the enduring 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 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.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews


Alena Graedon's spectacular debut is a story for our age of  'accelerated obsolescence.' A genuinely scary and funny mystery about linguistic slippage and disturbance, it's also a moving meditation on our sometimes comic, sometimes desperate struggles to speak, and to listen, and to mean something to one another.
To borrow Graedon's own invention, The Word Exchange is 'Synchronic' -- a gorgeous genre mashup that offers readers the pleasures of noir, science fiction, romance and philosophy. It's an unforgettable joyride across the thin ice of language."
-Karen Russell,  author of Swamplandia!, and Vampires in the Lemon Grove
"Wow! This highly addictive future noir is also terrifyingly prescient. Set in a parallel New York filled with language viruses, pneumatic tubes, and heartbreak, Alena Graedon's book is luminous and haunting at every turn. I will never look at words in quite the same way—and neither will you."
-Reif Larsen,  author of The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet

About the Author

Alena Graedon was born in Durham, NC, and is a graduate of Carolina Friends School, Brown University, and Columbia University’s MFA program. She was Manager of Membership and Literary Awards at the PEN American Center before leaving to finish The Word Exchange, her first novel, with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies. Her writing has been translated into nine languages. She lives in Brooklyn.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2040 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0385680139
  • Publisher: Doubleday (April 8, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #38,259 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stop the spread of the Word Flu! April 8, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
What if your iPhones and iPads were more than what they are? What if they could sense what you needed before you even asked? What if they could answer your questions, not by you asking them to Siri, but before you even realize you were doing to think them?

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon describes a similar type of world.

In the not so distant future, the Meme, which is kind of like the most ridiculously amazing iPhone/iPad ever, has taken over. People love their Memes and rely on them a lot. Gone are books, paper, letters, dictionaries. . .

But what comes with this convenience? A virus. A word flu that is taking over, destroying coherent speech and causing individuals to become deathly ill.

Anana (like “banana” without the “A”) works at the Dictionary, where her father is in charge of one of the largest Dictionary rewrites in history. When he goes missing, and the word flu begins to rear its ugly head, Anana knows there is more to the story, including her ex-boyfriend potentially having caused this virus and disorder.

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon was an outstanding book, written in 26 chapters each named for a letter of the alphabet. Told from both Anana’s and Bart’s (her father’s close co-worker) perspectives, The Word Exchange leaves you thinking. Are we really that far away from a society where everyone relies too much on electronic devices?

The Word Exchange is gripping, captivating, yet realistic as well. It’s the kind of book that might encourage you to put down your iPhone and check out some books, letters, or even a physical dictionary.

What word would you miss if it disappeared from the English language?

Thanks for reading,

Rebecca @ Love at First Book
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
If you are a lover of words and thrillers, this novel is for you. Yes, there has been a flurry of futuristic novels lately that dwell on the darker side of digital life, but I found this to be one of the most satisfying.

The lead character, Anana Johnston, is believable as is her quirky lexicographer father and her various love interests, despite a few stereotypical hobbies and attributes on behalf of the men. For a novice author, I felt the plot twists and close calls were mostly skillful. The book really pulled me in and through to the end.

I suspect that not every reader of novels would be quite as horrified as I over the dire prospect of abstruse volumes being lost to humanity, but the arguments made by the characters and author as to the absolute necessity of words, languages, history and connection are profound.
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Excellent premise, flawed execution April 13, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
For as long as I can remember, the dark side of technology is the fear that it distances us from what is supposed to be real life. As kids, we were constantly being told to quit watching TV and go outside and play. The arrival of personal computing ratcheted up this techno-anxiety and now, with smartphones, texting, Twitter and the advent of wearable computers, the warnings of a techno-apocalypse are frequently heard.

The Word Exchange imagines that in just a decade or so, we will all have a Meme, a sort of super smartphone/ereader/wearable computer that taps into our neural networks to provide a word we're reaching for, call a cab when we enter the elevator to go down to the street, order us takeout Chinese food, make the pedestrian crosswalk signal go on, dial a friend we're thinking of, and make recommendations and suggestions throughout the day. Synchronic Corporation, maker of the Meme, has branched into monitoring and facilitating applications for every part of life, from caregiving to teaching, to security, to medicine and more.

With reading actual books now an anachronism, our young woman protagonist Anana's father Doug's beloved North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL) will quit print publishing when its just-completed third edition ships. The International Diachronic Society warns against the abandonment of the book and the rising power of Synchronic Corporation and its products, but the Society's warnings go largely unheeded.

Doug has always been a little absent-minded and unreliable, but when he doesn't show up for a scheduled dinner with Anana, she knows something is wrong.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Our facility for reflection has dimmed." March 18, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Alena Graedon's "The Word Exchange," is a clever and expressive dystopian novel about the importance of meaningful written and oral communication. The heroine, who shares narrating duties with other characters, is twenty-seven year old Anana Johnson. She is an artist and employee of her father, the brilliant Douglas Johnson, chief editor of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. After twenty-six years of revision, the forty-volume third edition of the NADEL is complete and about to be published; a launch party is planned to celebrate this auspicious occasion. When Douglas suddenly vanishes, Ana is deeply concerned. She is destined to endure an ordeal that will change her perspective on life, love, and what it means to be human. In addition, she will come to suspect that her former boyfriend, the charismatic Max King, may not be the man she thought he was; that Bart Tate, Doug's protégé and the dictionary's deputy editor, may be more substantial than his geeky appearance would indicate; and that we must all safeguard language, a treasure that links our past, present, and future. "Words," Ana observes, "are pulleys through time. Portals into other minds. Without words, what remains?"

As Ana combs through her father's possessions and snoops in the basement of the New York City building where she works, she learns that a malevolent virus is altering communication and affecting people in unpredictable ways. Ana is afraid, but not cowed. She is determined to find out what happened to her father and intent on helping to save his dictionary, which is in danger of being eradicated. Graedon's villains are blinded by greed, obsessed with power, and too ignorant to understand the preciousness of what they are destroying.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Great Young Adult novel
This is a really good young adult novel of a dystopian future relative to the failure of technology. Read more
Published 2 days ago by Texas Rose
4.0 out of 5 stars LOSING OUR LANGUAGE
A thriller story about threats to language in a not too distant future in which humans depend more and more on technology to communicate. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Timmie Jensen
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting read.
It is a complicated read but a very interesting subject matter. Although I usually don't like this type of book, this one I have thoroughly enjoyed reading.
Published 6 days ago by laura whinfield
2.0 out of 5 stars Makes me fall asleep
I'm sorry to say that this novel didn't catch me at all. I have suffered through half of it but am determined to finish, even though I tend to fall asleep every time I read it. Read more
Published 6 days ago by L. Baden
4.0 out of 5 stars Great concept but distant characters
I'm probably misusing the word "paradoxically" here, but paradoxically, this novel wherein words are a central theme (if not character in their selves) verbally naval gazes so well... Read more
Published 10 days ago by Kilgore Gagarin
5.0 out of 5 stars Dystopia, Technology, & the Importance of Words
In this near-future dystopia, people are relying more and more on their Memes, combination smart phones/computers/servants, to run more and more of their lives. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Janet Perry
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't wait to put it back down
This book was not at all what I was hoping it would be. Instead of a fast-paced futuristic thriller it was a wordy, overly self-impressed, painful slog. Read more
Published 11 days ago by S. G.
4.0 out of 5 stars even a well educated and high vocabulary reader will be ...
even a well educated and high vocabulary reader will be sent running to the dictionary at regular intervals. Read more
Published 11 days ago by Ls Hartmann
4.0 out of 5 stars And is it really that good? Read and ponder
Creepy. I'm still mulling over this book and its impact and message. A chilling debut, a daunting take on our society, this is a book that will have you pause and consider all that... Read more
Published 12 days ago by Don Pape
4.0 out of 5 stars A cautionary tale. In the very near future an ...
A cautionary tale. In the very near future an internet company attempts to corner the market on words. The results --not intended -- are catastrophic. Read more
Published 15 days ago by Christian van Schayk
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More About the Author

Alena Graedon was born in Durham, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Carolina Friends School, Brown University, and Columbia University's School of the Arts. She has worked at Columbia, Knopf, and the PEN American Center. The Word Exchange, her first novel, was completed with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies, including The MacDowell Colony, The Ucross Foundation, and Yaddo. It is being translated into eight languages. Her nonfiction has been published in The Believer magazine, and in French translation in Le Believer. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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