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The Word Exchange: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Alena Graedon
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (199 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.95
Kindle Price: $9.99
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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

From Booklist

*Starred Review* What if we became so dependent on our gadgets that we lost our ability to speak? That’s the big idea in Graedon’s entertainingly scary debut, a bibliothriller of epidemic proportions. In the nearish future, in a steampunky New York where messages travel by secret pneumatic tubes, Anana Johnson’s father, Doug, is preparing to launch the final edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL). Then he suddenly goes missing (both in real life and from his biographical entry in the dictionary), Anana sees something bizarre in the NADEL’s basement, and people start talking funny. Aphasia is the first symptom of “word flu,” a sickness that scrambles speech and renders some speakers permanently silent. It’s all tied to people’s habit of using their Memes (think iPhones to the tenth power) to buy words when they can’t remember them, Anana eventually learns. As in Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013), Graedon’s fears about technology are clearly evident. There are a few stutters in the structure and pacing, but this is a remarkable first novel, combining a vividly imagined future with the fondly remembered past to offer a chilling prediction of where our unthinking reliance on technology is leading us. And, as you’d expect, Graedon’s word choice is exquisite. --Keir Graff


Clever, breathless and sportively Hegelian ... THE WORD EXCHANGE combines the jaunty energy of youngish adult fiction (boyfriend trouble, parent conflicts, peer pressure and post-collegiate jitters) with the spine-tingling chill of the science-fiction conspiracy genre -- Liesel Schillinger NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW Graedon's spectacular, ambitious debut explores a near-future America that's shifted almost exclusively to smart technologies, where print is only a nostalgia ... it's as full of humanity as it is of mystery and intellectual prowess PUBLISHER'S WEEKLY, starred review [A] remarkable first novel, combining a vividly imagined future with the fondly remembered past ... exquisite BOOKLIST, starred review A wildly ambitious, darkly intellectual and inventive thriller about the intersection of language, technology and meaning KIRKUS, starred review 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 Imaginative, layered, and highly original, THE WORD EXCHANGE is an engagingly creepy story of technology gone wrong and a clever meditation on the enduring mysteries of language and love -- Karen Thompson Walker, author of THE AGE OF MIRACLES 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 Can you imagine a future without books, newspapers or magazines? Alena Graedon has done just that - her debut novel conjures up a scarily plausible dystopian future, where print is dead and intuitive handheld devices are the only method of communication. THE LADY In Graedon's dystopian future, face-to-face interfacing is finished and even email is a fading memory; when the man working on the last-ever dictionary goes missing, his daughter sets out to find him and discovers murky anti-literate corporate forces and outposts of word-loving outlaws. ESQUIRE MAGAZINE

Product Details

  • File Size: 1929 KB
  • Print Length: 386 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0345806034
  • Publisher: Anchor (April 8, 2014)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,628 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
24 of 27 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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20 of 23 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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16 of 19 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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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
"On a very cold and lonely Friday night last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.”

In her debut dystopian novel of and about words and meanings, understood and not understood, Alena Gradeon makes clear that language, the importance of language, and need for language in holding not just society, but families, people, and even love together is something that we cannot do without.

The Word Exchange (published by Doubleday) is both dystopian and a thriller in one “between the covers page turner.” Set sometime around or after 2020, the story begins the sudden disappearance of Douglas Samuel Johnson, Chief Editor of North American Dictionary of the English Language and the determination of his daughter Anana’s, (code named Alice after Alice in Wonderland) efforts to discover why and possibly where he is.

Her search leads us on a wild ride of increasingly stifling technology that creates both linguistic, physical, social, political, economic, and relational breakdowns. And also introduces us to a tension which is talked about today between the history and stability of the printed word (now very much gone in the novel) verses the increasing use of technology and its own language, like texting, alongside the increasing use of visuals such as pictures to communicate.

As she travels above and below the streets of New York, we are forced to confront the corporate giant Synchronic whose Word Exchange is an effort for old words and meanings to be replaced with new ones. Words are for sale. Meaning is for sale.

We also encounter a fascinating new world of what I call Technology 4.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Dreadful Writing
How was this book ever published? The writing is dreadful. I find it impossible to read. I'm around page 30, and I give up. And I want my money back. I was had.
Published 17 days ago by Miss Pam
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't Even Bother
This book is so caught up in trying to live up to its title that it completely looses any interest in maintaining an actual plot. Read more
Published 19 days ago by NYCgirl
4.0 out of 5 stars strange but interesting. Don't think it could happen. ...
strange but interesting. Don't think it could happen. But computers are going
nuts. And who knows what may be possible in the future.
Published 27 days ago by David Whitmoyer
3.0 out of 5 stars Words Can't Explain
Enjoyed even though not always easy to follow.
Published 28 days ago by Deborah DeBruyn
4.0 out of 5 stars the new 1984?
This is a worthy read. In a society growing evermore dependent on Twitter sized communication, and on shrinking face to face communication, I found myself figuratively nodding my... Read more
Published 1 month ago by MJA
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
When though the book was about the disappearance of words, I found the book too wordy
Published 1 month ago by Lucille
4.0 out of 5 stars A Hauntingly Prophetic Read
The Word Exchange tells a haunting tale of a world where smart phones have completely infiltrated our lives. The story is not so far off from where we are today. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Megs
Published 1 month ago by William Lothian
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
I found this a very difficult to read book. Just gave up.
Published 1 month ago by Elliot Markovitz
4.0 out of 5 stars A Book for People who Love Books
Anana Johnson's father disappears just days before his life's work, the third edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language, is set to debut. Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. Messersmith
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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. The Word Exchange, her first novel, was completed with the help of fellowships at several artist colonies, including MacDowell, Ucross, and Yaddo, and is being translated into eight languages. It was a New York Times Editors' Choice pick and selected as a best novel of 2014 by Kirkus, Electric Literature, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction has been published in The New York Times Book Review and The Believer magazine, among other publications. She teaches at Columbia University and lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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