Book Review: The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon

18 April 2014

Originally published in the April 18, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission. If you don't already receive it, sign up here to receive a bi-weekly dose of readerly goodness in your inbox.

The Word Exchange, Alena Graedon's debut novel, introduces readers to a not-so-distant future in which the oft-predicted death of the book has come to pass. As people become more and more dependent on their "Memes"--devices similar to our current smartphones, but with more predictive functionality--books, newspapers and dictionaries have become increasingly obsolete. Perhaps it is because of the obscurity of his work that lexicographer Doug Johnson has started to become paranoid about his safety--but when he goes missing, his daughter, Anana, is forced to accept that his fears may not have been unfounded.

As Anana probes deeper and deeper into her father's disappearance, it becomes clear the missing lexicographer lies at the heart of a larger problem: a "word flu" that is threatening the world's ability to communicate.

The Word Exchange is a riot of a read, asking big questions about our present and our future; Anana's investigations force readers to consider the ever-increasing role technology plays in our day-to-day lives and the importance of language in shaping our identities and communicating with the world around us. Graedon's clever incorporation of obscure vocabulary will leave those reading on paper reaching for the nearest dictionary--while those reading on devices will think twice about clicking on the words on the screen to look up their definitions.


The Word Exchange | Alena Graedon | April 2014 | Doubleday | Hardcover | 384 pages

#24in48: Reading Updates

05 April 2014

Hello all! It's officially the #24in48 readathon in my neck of the woods. I'll be updating on Tumblr, with links in this post over the course of the weekend. I can't wait to see what everyone is reading, and to finally tackle some serious reading from my own TBR stack.

I have plans to go to a Nats game on Saturday night, and to watch Game of Thrones (of course) on Sunday evening, so while I may not get to 24 hours, I'm really crossing my fingers and hoping for lots of uninterrupted reading time this weekend.

Kick-off Post
My reading companion for the weekend.

Giveaway: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, signed by Carol Leifer

03 April 2014

Carol Leifer's new book, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, boasts what must be one of the most impressive collection of blurbs I've ever seen. I'll leave it here extra large so you can read them all yourself:

...and in case that wasn't impressive enough, the collection continues onto the back. I know blurbs can be a fickle thing in the publishing industry, but come on. How can you not want to read a book that Jerry Seinfeld told you to read? By an author that Chris Rock calls "funny, really funny"?


Yeah, I thought you might be. And the good news is that thanks to the wonderful people over at Quirk Books, I can offer one of you a signed copy of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying for yourself. All you need to do to enter is fill out the form below. Worldwide entries are welcome!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: Thanks to Quirk Books for providing the copy of the book for this giveaway.

Looking Ahead: April Titles

01 April 2014

It's spring! Maybe! If it ever stops snowing!

...which means publishers are gearing up for summer reading, which means my the list of April titles I'm eyeing is an absurd length, and contains far more books than I could possibly hope to read. But since that's never stopped me from hoping, here are the new books I'm eager for this month:

The Confidence Code, by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman (HarperBusiness, April 15): Subtitled "The Science and Art of Self-Assurance---What Women Should Know," this book promises to be a follow-up to Lean In, which I finally read this year and found really resonated with me. Sign me up, please.

Bourbon, by Dane Huckelbridge (William Morrow, April 1): This bourbon-drinking booklover can't wait to dive into the history of this classic American spirit.

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, by Kevin Brockmeier (Random House, April 8): I read (and loved) Kevin Brockmeier's The Illumination, so was excited to dive into the author's first memoir. This one focuses on just the seventh grade, and (spoilers) it's excellent. Stay tuned for a full review.

Cubed, by Nikil Saval (Doubleday, April 22): White collar Americans spend disproportionate amounts of time in small cube-shaped offices, and Nikil Saval's book promises to explore the history behind our workspaces. As one such white collar American working in an office (luckily mine has a door and real walls, so it doesn't technically qualify as a cube), I think this sounds fascinating.

The Remedy, by Thomas Goetz (Gotham, April 3): When this book was pitched to me, I saw the words "Arthur Conan Doyle," "lethal disease," and "popularize science," and knew this would be right up my alley.

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying, by Carol Leifer (Quirk Books, April 8): I swear I've never seen a book with such an impressive collection of blurbers. And while I usually take blurbs with a grain of salt (or twenty), it's hard to resist when Jerry Seinfeld, Whoopi Goldbery, J.J Abrams, Sarah Silverman and about a dozen other popular comedians are telling us to read this book. Stay tuned for more on this one later this week.

Murder on the Home Front, by Molly Lefebure (Grand Central, April 1): I've long been fascinated by the London Blitz and the amazing impact it had on London's citizens, military, architecture, history, etc. This history promises lots of Blitz information and a healthy dose of forensic science, too.

Creativity, Inc, by Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace (Random House, April 8): Buzz Lightyear on the cover + the brains behind Pixar Animation Studios + the development of creative culture = Read this.

The Empathy Exams, by Leslie Jamison (Graywolf, April 1): I actually know nothing about this collection except that someone on Twitter was raving about it. Behold the power of social media, because it's now firmly on my TBR list.

Thunderstruck and Other Stories, by Elizabeth McCracken (The Dial Press, April 22): A little bit weird, a little bit beautiful, a little bit emotional. I'm falling in love with McCracken's writing, one story at a time.

Astonish Me, by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf, April 8): I actually haven't (yet) read Shipstead's debut, Seating Arrangements, but I've heard enough good things about it to be interested in her sophomore effort, which takes on the world of ballet.

Frog Music, by Emma Donoghue (Little, Brown & Co, April 1): Emma. Donoghue. 'Nuff said.

Casebook, by Mona Simpson (Knopf, April 16): The story of a boy investigating his parents' separation, asking big questions about privacy in our age of oversharing. The Millions had this one on its list of most anticipated books in 2014, and I know it's on mine as well.

The Word Exchange, by Alena Graedon (Doubleday, April 8): Is it just me, or is everyone suddenly talking about this book? If you're not talking about it, now seems a good time to start. This one is reminiscent of Lexicon in the way it explores the power of language--or in this case, the power of taking language away--in a world in which dictionaries are no longer printed and people are dependent on their predictive smart devices. Sound eerily like our world? That's the best part.

Run, Don't Walk, by Adele Levine (Avery, April 10): I fell hard for Phil Klay's Redeployment last month, and plan to continue on the theme of reading more about our vets. While Klay came to the subject of war as a veteran, Levine approaches it after six years at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, rehabilitating soldiers in physical and emotional distress. The publisher's description promises "an array of oddball characters." Yes, please.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin (Algonquin, April 1): Transformation, second chances, bookstores, and an exploration of why we read. Could you ring any more of my bells?

Looking Back: March Highlights

29 March 2014

March was a bit of a snow slow reading month for me (also a slow posting month, and doing the laundry month, and do much of anything not work or volunteer-related), but there were definitely some highlights (*cough Saga cough*). Without further ado:

Saga, Volumes 1 & 2, by Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples: Hot damn, how did I wait so long to pick these up? While I've never been a big reader of comics or graphic novels, the right combination of stunning art, interesting subjects and just enough WTF-ery is generally all it takes to pull me in. The last time that happened was with Bill Willingham's Fables series, which I devoured, but Saga tops the WTF-ery of Fables by a long shot. And then some. And that's a good thing. The story of two star-crossed lovers trying to raise a kid in a world and find peace--yes, entire world--at war might sound hokey, but when you consider that both are gunslinging, cursing motherfuckers, it becomes anything but hokey. I read the first two volumes back-to-back, and am eagerly awaiting my library's copy of the third volume.

Fallen Beauty, by Erika Robuck: I've come to expect nothing short of fascinating historical fiction from Erika's work, and Fallen Beauty did not disappoint. A truly captivating story not just of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but of the time in which she lived. Read my full review of Fallen Beauty.

A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip, by Kevin Brockmeier: Ok, I'm cheating on this one, because it doesn't actually publish until April, but I had to include it here. I read (and adored) Brockmeier's The Illumination, and his memoir of the seventh grade was intriguing for a variety of reasons: it focuses on just one year of his life, it's told in the third person, it has elements of the fantastical. I had the chance to interview Brockmeier about the book and his experience writing it; stay tuned for my full review and interview in Shelf Awareness this month.

Hotel on the Place Vendome, by Tilar Mazzeo: Mazzeo's history of the Hotel Ritz in Paris reads like an if-walls-could-talk memoir of a building, documenting the famous--and infamous--inhabitants of one of the world's most recognized hotels. From Coco Chanel to the Nazis and beyond, this proved one of the books I couldn't stop talking about, filling my friends' ears with, "Did you know...?" statements left and right. Read my full review of Hotel on the Place Vendome, and my blurb in Bloggers Recommend.

The Heaven of Animals, by David James Poissant: I requested this on Netgalley on a whim, and could not be more thankful. Poissant's stories are absurd and heartbreaking, emotional, wonderful, hilarious, awful. I had to stop reading halfway through because I could not see the pages through my tears, and yet the stories never left me without hope. I didn't write a full review of this one because I wasn't quite sure how to put into words how much I loved it. Just read it, please? Read my blurb in Bloggers Recommend.

Redeployment, by Phil Klay: I did manage to review this one... barely. Another collection of short stories, another for the "not quite sure how to find the words" pile (a rare thing for a book reviewer, one hopes). Klay's collection paints such a vivid, varied portrait of the life of a veteran that anyone who's anyone should take the time to read it in order to better understand our nation's military. Read my full review of Redeployment, and my blurb in Bloggers Recommend.

#24in48: My Reading Stack

27 March 2014

I gearing up for another fabulous weekend of fabulous reading with the upcoming #24in48, and have worked to narrow down my list of books to consider over the course of the two days. While I certainly won't get to all of these, I want to make sure to be giving myself options for different moods, activities, weather, etc.

If you haven't already signed up, it's not too late to join us! And if you have signed up, what books are on your radar for the weekend?

Back in Flash, BEA, and Other Updates

26 March 2014

I feel like it's been a good long while since I've written any original content for this little corner of the interwebs, and wanted to hop on to apologize. The non-blog, non-reading life has started to catch up with me in recent week--work, volunteering, and a few new, exciting personal endeavors have kept me from writing as much as I'd like.

But I've still been reading (albeit not nearly as much in March as I did in February), writing for Shelf Awareness, and following the conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and others' blogs. I'm hoping to be back in the swing of things next week. Which leads me to...

I am so, so, SO excited to be participating once again in Rachel from A Home Between Pages' #24in48 readathon weekend, April 5-6th. Stay tuned for my book stack, and of course I'll be updating during the event itself. I desperately need this kick in the reading pants, and can't wait to set aside an entire weekend (ok, almost an entire weekend, because I have baseball tickets for Saturday night...) to do nothing but read.

And last, but certainly not least...

I'm thrilled to be heading back to BEA this year, and for more than the 1.5 days I managed to swing last year. Verdict's still out on what days I'll be there, but I'm looking forward to books, conversations about books, more books, and a chance to meet so many lovely bloggers that otherwise exist solely behind the computer screen for me. So, role call time. Who else is going this year?