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The Word Exchange: A Novel Audiobook, by Alena Graedon Extended Sample Click for printable size audiobook cover
Author: Alena Graedon Narrator: Tavia Gilbert Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: April 2014 ISBN: 9781482969016
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A fiendishly clever dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange is a fresh, stylized, and decidedly original debut about the dangers of technology and the 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 a thing of the past, as we spend our time glued to handheld devices called memes that not only keep us in constant communication but have become so intuitive as to 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, where he 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 e-mail to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another. One evening, Doug disappears, leaving a single written clue: ALICE—a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them ever fell into harm's way. Thus begins Anana's journey down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Joined by Bart, her bookish colleague, Anana's search for Doug will take her into dark basement incinerator rooms, underground passages of the Mercantile Library, secret meetings of the anonymous Diachronic Society, the boardrooms of the evil online retailing site Synchronic, and ultimately to the hallowed halls of the Oxford English Dictionary—spiritual home of the written word. As Ana pieces together what is going on, and Bart gets sicker and sicker with the strange "word flu" that has spread worldwide and causes people to speak in gibberish, Alena Graedon crafts a fresh, cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a thoughtful meditation on the price of technology and the unforeseen, though very real, dangers of the digital age.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “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 mash-up 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, New York Times bestselling author

  • “[A] fast-paced, thrill-a-minute début novel…The sonic pleasures of Graedon’s degraded language are considerable…She creates a powerful sense of mystery…[I] raced greedily to the last page, enjoying Graedon’s plot-weaving every step of the way.”

    New Yorker

  • “Clever, breathless, and sportively Hegelian in theme, The Word Exchange combines the jaunty energy of youngish adult fiction with the spine-tingling chill of the science fiction conspiracy genre…Graedon makes you wring your hands for her heroine—and tremble for the future of the English language throughout her twenty-six chapters, achieving the singular feat of turning the alphabet into a cliffhanger. As much fun as Graedon has with her Borgesian doomsday scenario, her novel folds serious meditations on language and society into its manhunt.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “[Graedon] knows how to ratchet up mystery. In [her] dystopian future, face-to-face interfacing is finished and even email is a fading memory.”

    Esquire (UK)

  • “A sobering look at how dependent we are on technology and how susceptible we are to the distortions of language.”

    Washington Post

  • “Alena Graedon makes what sounds like a preposterous premise believable in this clever first novel, a mystery set in a dystopian near future.”

    Chicago Tribune 

  • “An ambitious debut…Graedon’s own language is essential to the success of The Word Exchange—it’s erudite, ruminative, and complex.”


  • “Graedon’s spectacular, ambitious debut explores a near-future America that’s shifted almost exclusively to smart technologies…Rife with literary allusions and philosophical wormholes that aren’t only decorative but integral to characters’ abilities and limitations in communicating, and it succeeds precisely because it’s as full of humanity as it is of mystery and intellectual prowess.”

    Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  • “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.

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “Language becomes a virus in this terrifying vision of the print-empty, Web-reliant culture of the twenty-second century…A wildly ambitious, darkly intellectual and inventive thriller about the intersection of language, technology, and meaning.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Dig out your dictionary for this chilling story of a word virus, performed flawlessly by Tavia Gilbert and Paul Michael Garcia. In twenty-six chapters, Gilbert and Garcia alternately narrate a journal that tells the story of technology gone awry…This warning about dependence upon technology is performed without a hitch. Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.”


  • “[A] clever first novel…Michael Garcia is the voice of Bart…Garcia gives the brainy etymologist just the right touch of mooniness. If a voice could convey a man with intelligent-looking spectacles, it would be Garcia’s.”

    Printer’s Row Journal (audio review)

  • “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

  • A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week, April 2014
  • Long-listed for the 2014 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize
  • Winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award
  • One of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2014
  • A Huffington Post Pick of What to Read Next, after Orwell's 1984

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About the Author

Alena Graedon was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia MFA program. She lives in Brooklyn.

About the Narrator

Tavia Gilbert is an acclaimed narrator of more than four hundred full-cast and multivoice audiobooks for virtually every publisher in the industry. Named the 2018 Voice of Choice by Booklist magazine, she is also winner of the prestigious Audie Award for best narration. She has earned numerous Earphones Awards, a Voice Arts Award, and a Listen-Up Award. has named her a Genre-Defining Narrator: Master of Memoir. In addition to voice acting, she is an accomplished producer, singer, and theater actor. She is also a producer, singer, photographer, and a writer, as well as the cofounder of a feminist publishing company, Animal Mineral.