Writer to Writer: Teddy Wayne and Alena Graedon
Tuesday April 8, 2014
Photo credit: Christine Mladic | Photo credit: Beowulf Sheehan
Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Johnny Valentine, interviewed Alena Graedon for the launch of her debut novel, The Word Exchange. The event was held in our second-floor reading room, which is also the setting for some of the events in the novel. The event included a discussion, Q&A session, and food and wine reception.
About The Word Exchange (Doubleday)
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 near reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are essentially things 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 our stomachs, change traffic lights and interface with home appliances—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 they are hard at work on the final edition that will ever be printed. Doug is staunchly anti-Meme and fondly remembers the days when people used e-mail to communicate--or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving behind a written clue: ALICE. It's a code word he and Anana devised to signal if one of them 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.
"With secret societies, conspiracies, and mega-corp Synchronic's menacing technologies, Graedon deploys all the hallmarks of a futuristic thriller, but avoids derivative doomsday sci-fi shtick. Instead, her novel is 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 wildly ambitious, darkly intellectual and inventive thriller about the intersection of language, technology and meaning.”
— Kirkus, starred review
Alena Graedon was born in Durham, North Carolina, and is a graduate of Brown University and the Columbia MFA program. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. This is her first novel.
Teddy Wayne is the author of the novels The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Simon & Schuster) and Kapitoil (Harper Perennial), for which he was the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers' Award, the recipient of an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship, and a PEN/Bingham Prize, New York Public Library Young Lions Fiction Award, and Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalist. A columnist for the New York Times, his work regularly appears in The New Yorker, GQ, McSweeney's, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.