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The Word Exchange: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Alena Graedon
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (131 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $26.95
Kindle Price: $11.84
You Save: $15.11 (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: #47,066 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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19 of 23 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition
I received an electronic advanced reading copy of this from the publisher via NetGalley.

Literary novels can get away with lacking an exciting plot when they are filled with profound insights or inspiring artistic language that like poetry conveys complex emotions and relationships. Genre novels can get away with the opposite, being completely plot-driven, large-scale, 'simple' entertainment, even if formulaic. I become most impressed by the authors, or specific works, that are able to pull off the best of both worlds. That kind of mashup is a risky endeavor though, for sometimes it can come out where neither side really comes out well in the product, and that unfortunately is the case overall with "The Word Exchange".

The premise of the novel is wonderful, and lovers of books, languages, and the power of words will appreciate at the very least the foundations of the novel. The early chapters are dominated more by the literary side of the equation. While the writing is good throughout the novel, it is probably best here Although it verges on gimmicky with the advanced vocabulary-laden prose, that doesn't feel like a major fault until it gives way to being replaced by fake words for the remainder of the novel. The trick gets old fast, making the advanced real words sometimes overlap in one's mind as an elemental tool with the fake ones to come. Graedon writes well, but only rarely does it seem profound or elegant. Rather than words being carefully chosen to fit the flow and of the sentence, they are instead chosen to fit the style, or theme moreso, of the novel's plot.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful romp in a very possible dystopian world.
A must read for lovers of dystopian adventures, litereature and adventure!
Published 2 days ago by laprofe1
5.0 out of 5 stars A scary and altogether plausible premise
Author Alena Graedon has crafted a unique first novel, one which explores the premise of a world that has become so dependent on technology that never mind the printed word,... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Z Hayes
3.0 out of 5 stars ... novel starts out ith a bang - which is good. However
The novel starts out ith a bang - which is good. However, soon the authors ignorance of 1) neurology/neuroanatomy; 2) speech & language pathology & therapy; 3) philology is VERY... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars I really like her ideas.
First off, I'd like to state very clearly that Alena Graedon absolutely has the right idea. While it may seem a bit fanciful to actually take on or even give a really vivid idea... Read more
Published 8 days ago by J from NY
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wondfully Scary Novel - Might Be More Real Than You Think
There comes a book once in every few years that stops you in your reading tracks and takes you to a world you can never fully return from. Read more
Published 10 days ago by Rebecca Graf
4.0 out of 5 stars Read Often and Read Well
This book was a lovely examination on the loss of language and thereby the loss of coherent thought. Read more
Published 13 days ago by EL Clark
5.0 out of 5 stars The death of the printed word
This book is a thrilling adventure. What if we no longer had items in print? No newspapers, magazines, books, and people began to lose their ability to speak or communicate in the... Read more
Published 14 days ago by W. Jamison
3.0 out of 5 stars Facinating premise. Let down by the writing style,
Not all that impressed. Good premise and unfortunately highly plausible given our living in an Amazon and Google world. Read more
Published 16 days ago by see the water
5.0 out of 5 stars Cautionary or Prophetic?
Well conceived. I hope it is not prophetic but we are becoming too accustomed to technology "thinking" and "remembering" for us. A great read. Thought provoking. Read more
Published 17 days ago by Raymond P. German
4.0 out of 5 stars Somewhat dystopian
A somewhat dystopian novel set in the near future when a company tries to corner languages. To do this involves destroying an American Dictionary, and loosing a word virus that... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Jonathan P. Hodgson
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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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