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The Lover's Dictionary: A Novel Hardcover – January 4, 2011


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition (1 in number line) edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374193681
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374193683
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (173 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #410,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: In his first book for adults, popular young-adult novelist David Levithan creates a beautifully crafted exploration of the insecurities, tenderness, anger, and contented comfort that make romantic relationships so compelling (or devastating). Through sparingly written, alphabetical entries that defy chronology in defining a love affair, The Lover’s Dictionary packs an emotional wallop. For "breathtaking (adj.)," the unnamed narrator explains, "Those moments when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word." For "exacerbate (v.)," he notes, "I believe your exact words were: 'You’re getting too emotional.'" Ranging from over a page to as short as "celibacy (n.), n/a," the definitions-as-storyline alternate between heart-wrenching and humorous--certainly an achievement for a book structured more like Webster’s than a traditional novel. Proving that enduring characters and conflict trump word count, Levithan’s poignant vignettes and emotional candor will remind readers that sometimes in both fiction and life, less is truly more--and the personal details of love can be remarkably universal. --Jessica Schein


Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with David Levithan

Q: What inspired you to write The Lover’s Dictionary?

Levithan: Every year for the past 23 years, I’ve written a story for my friends for Valentine’s Day. It started when I was a junior in high school and remarkably bored in my physics class--I decided to go through the physics book and find all the romantic references I could (opposites attracting, magnetism, etc), and turn it into a love story. My friends liked it, and the next year, they demanded a new story for Valentine’s Day. A tradition (or, at least, a deadline) was born.

Two years ago, I hit February 1st and I hadn’t started writing my Valentine’s Day story. I had a few ideas, but none were kicking in. I sat down at my desk to thing something up, and right by an elbow was a book I’d recently recovered from my parents’ basement--a book of “words you need to know” that I’d been given as a gift (probably for my high school graduation). I thought it might be interesting to take random words from that book, in alphabetical order, and tell the story of a relationship through those words, in dictionary form. I didn’t plan any of it out--I let the words tell the story. And two weeks later, I had the story version of The Lover’s Dictionary.

Q: How (if at all) was the experience of writing what is classified as an adult novel different from writing a young adult novel? Did you approach the emotion of love differently?

Levithan: I didn’t approach this book any differently from my other books. Because, really, the emotions don’t change. Perspective changes (a little, sometimes not even a little), but the emotions are still there. Yes, the twenty-something characters in The Lover’s Dictionary are facing some issues most teens don’t face--moving in together, paying rent. But most of what they’re feeling is merely a continuation of the emotions that come to the fore when you’re a teenager--wanting to belong, wanting to understand yourself, wanting to understand the person you love, wanting to know what love is. I’d love to say that when we become adults we stop being insecure, that we have answers, that we know the right words for the right moments. But that’s simply not true.

Q: Were there any words/definitions that didn’t make it in to the final book?

Levithan: Not that many. I just went back to the first draft and found one:

haggle, v. There was no way I was letting the Atlanta Braves lamp to our apartment, and you said, fine, then my lunchbox collection could go back to my parents’ basement, where it belonged.

I’m not even sure why it didn’t make the cut. Maybe there were already too many entries about decorating the apartment.

Q: The Lover’s Dictionary isn’t a linear story and is organized alphabetically, much like a traditional reference dictionary. How (if at all) did you change your writing process knowing that it would unfold this way?

Levithan: I loved writing in a nonlinear way. Because it feels to me like a more accurate way of how we recount relationships. They never come back to us as a narrative, told beginning-middle-end. Whether it’s over or ongoing, we remember it in flashes. Different moments from the past hit us at different moments in the present. So when the narrator sits down to recount the relationship to the lover, it makes sense to me that the relationship would appear to him in this way, with the words as the catalyst for the memories, and the memories adding up to the truth.

Q: Why did you decide to write the novel in first person, directed at a second person?

Levithan: The act of writing the book (for the narrator) is as much a part of the story as the story itself. I don’t want to explain the book too much, so I can leave it at that. And I wanted it to play like a love song you hear on the radio--the most effective love songs are somehow both specific and universal. You feel you are hearing someone else’s story, but at the same time you relate to it so much that their story doesn’t preclude your story. I wanted The Lover’s Dictionary to be like that.

Q: Describe how you feel about writing in three words.

Levithan: Wonderment. Curiosity. Random.

From Publishers Weekly

This cute "novel" by YA author Levithan consists of a series of words and their definitions, each evoking a phase or theme about a fledgling romance. (e.g., fledgling: "Part of the reason I preferred reading to sex was that I at least knew I could read well"). The entries do gradually unravel a love story: the narrator has met a woman ("you") through an online dating site (aberrant: " ˜I don't normally do this kind of thing,' you said. ˜Neither do I,' I assured you"). He endures all the writhings of new love, by turns eager, reserved, and hopeful about their evolving relationship, and transported by the joy of mutual exploration, the two move in together (balk: "If it all went wrong, the last thing I'd care about was who was to blame for moving in together") and are eventually undone (livid: "You went and broke our lives"). Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor (that just happens to hit shelves around Valentine's Day) is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan's wit. (Feb.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

I find it downright baffling to write about myself, which is why I'm considering it somewhat cruel and usual to have to write this brief bio and to update it now and then. The factual approach (born '72, Brown '94, first book '03) seems a bit dry, while the emotional landscape (happy childhood, happy adolescence - give or take a few poems - and happy adulthood so far) sounds horribly well-adjusted. The only addiction I've ever had was a brief spiral into the arms of diet Dr Pepper, unless you count My So-Called Life episodes as a drug. I am evangelical in my musical beliefs.

Luckily, I am much happier talking about my books than I am talking about myself. My first novel, Boy Meets Boy, started as a story I wrote for my friends for Valentine's Day (something I've done for the past twenty-two years and counting) and turned itself into a teen novel. When not writing during spare hours on weekends, I am editorial director at Scholastic, and the founding editor of the PUSH imprint, which is devoted to finding new voices and new authors in teen literature. (Check it out at www.thisispush.com.)

With Boy Meets Boy, I basically set out to write the book that I dreamed of getting as an editor - a book about gay teens that doesn't conform to the old norms about gay teens in literature (i.e. it has to be about a gay uncle, or a teen who gets beaten up for being gay, or about outcasts who come out and find they're still outcasts, albeit outcasts with their outcastedness in common.) I'm often asked if the book is a work of fantasy or a work of reality, and the answer is right down the middle - it's about where we're going, and where we should be. Of Boy Meets Boy, the reviewer at Booklist wrote: "In its blithe acceptance and celebration of human differences, this is arguably the most important gay novel since Annie on My Mind and seems to represent a revolution in the publishing of gay-themed books for adolescents" - which pretty much blew me away when I read it. Viva la revolution!

My second book, The Realm of Possibility, is about twenty teens who all go to the same high school, and how their lives interconnect. Each part is written in its own style, and I'm hoping they all add up to a novel that conveys all the randomness and intersection that goes on in our lives - two things I'm incredibly fascinated by. The book is written in both poetry and linebroken prose - something I never dreamed I would write. But I was inspired by writers such as Virginia Euwer Wolff, Billy Merrell, Eireann Corrigan, and Marie Howe to try it. It is often said that reading is the greatest inspiration to writing, and this is definitely the case for me.

My third novel, Are We There Yet?, is about two brothers who are tricked into taking a trip to Italy together. The natural questions to ask when faced with this summary are: (a) Do you have a brother? (Yes.); (b) Is he the brother in the book? (He's neither brother in the book.); (c) Have you been to Italy? (Yes.); (d) Which city was your favorite? (Venice.); (e) Is this based on your trip there? (The sights are, but the story isn't; the whole time I was there, I took notes in my notebook, not knowing exactly what they'd be for.)

Marly's Ghost, my fourth novel, is a Valentine's Day retelling of A Christmas Carol, illustrated by my friend Brian Selznick. To write it, I went through A Christmas Carol and remixed it - took phrases and themes and created a new version, centering around a boy named Ben whose girlfriend, Marly, has just died. When he looks like he's giving up on life, Marly reappears in ghost form - and sends some other ghosts to get him to embrace life again. It was a hard book to write - it's about both love and grief, two very difficult things to capture truthfully. But I genuinely don't see any reason to write a book if it doesn't feel like a challenge.

My next book came unexpectedly. My friend Rachel Cohn proposed that we write a back-and-forth novel, with her writing from a girl's perspective and me writing from a boy's. The result is Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, a kick- butt love story that we wrote over a summer without really planning it out. It just happened, and it was one of the best writing experiences I ever had. It has even been bought for the movies - stay tuned on that front.

A different kind of collaboration is The Full Spectrum: A New Generation of Writing About Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, and Other Identities, an anthology I co-edited with my best friend Billy Merrell. It contains true stories from LGBTQ writers under the age of 23, and the Lambda Award for Best LBGTQ Children's/Teen Book.

Other anthologies I've edited or co-edited include: 21 Proms, a collection of prom stories by YA authors, co-edited with Daniel Ehrenhaft; Friends, an anthology of middle-grade friendship stories, co-edited with Ann M. Martin; and three PUSH anthologies of the best young writers and artists in America: You Are Here, This Is Now (2002), Where We Are, What We See (2005), We Are Quiet, We Are Loud (2008). Another PUSH anthology is This is PUSH, featuring new work from all of the authors who've written for PUSH.

My sixth novel, Wide Awake, starts with the election of the first gay Jewish president, and is about two boyfriends who must go to Kansas when the election results are threatened. In many ways, it's a "sequel in spirit" to Boy Meets Boy, since it's about many of the same things - love, friendship tolerance, and taking a stand for what you believe in. It was written right after the 2004 election, and published right before the 2006 election, which made me hope that a gay Jewish president was a closer reality than I might have thought. (No, I have no intention to run. But if you read the book now, it's sometimes how eerie how it echoes the 2008 race.)

My second collaboration with Rachel Cohn, Naomi and Ely's No Kiss List, was inspired by a phrase my best friend Nick and I came up with after he moved to New York City. It's about a straight girl and a gay boy who've been best friends forever . . . but have to deal with a lot of things that have gone unsaid after the boy (Ely) kisses the girl's (Naomi's) boyfriend. This time, Rachel and I decided to rotate the point of view between a number of characters, not just the titular two. The result was harder to write, but just as fun to create.

How They Met, and Other Stories, was published in 2008, which happened to be the twentieth anniversary of my Valentine Story tradition. It contains a few stories I wrote in high school and college, and more that I wrote more recently, some for anthologies, and some just for myself and my friends.

The first series I ever worked on (as a writer) is Likely Story, which I wrote with two of my friends, Chris Van Etten and David Ozanich, under the pen name David Van Etten. Chris and David both have experience working on soap operas, and had the idea for a TV show about the daughter of a soap opera diva who ends up running a soap opera of her own. I know nothing about writing a TV show, so I said, "Hey, that would be fun to write as a series of books, too!" And, voila!, Likely Story was born. It was a blast to write, and the main character, Mallory, is one of my favorites yet.

In 2009, Knopf published Love is the Higher Law. It's the story of three teenagers in New York on 9/11, and how their lives intertwine in the days and weeks and months that follow. I know this sounds grim, but it's really the story of things coming together even as it feels like the world is falling apart -- because that's how it felt to be in New York at that time, both tragic because of the events that happened and magical in the way that everyone became their better selves in the face of it. It's a love story between friends, a love story for a city, and a love story for love itself, and the way it can get us through things, however daunting or shocking they may be. Or at least that's what I aimed for. I hope you'll read it and let me know if I got there.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson started, in many ways, back in college, when I kept being mistaken for another student named David Leventhal. He was a beautiful dancer; I was not. So people would continually come up to me and say things like, "I saw you on stage last night - who would have thought you could be so graceful?" And I'd have to say, "Um...that wasn't me." Our paths finally crossed at the end of school, and we became best friends when we both moved to New York City - him to dance, me to edit and write. Fast forward ten years or so - I had the idea to write a book about two boys with the same name, and called my friend John Green about it. He said yes on the spot, and it took us five years from first conversation to publication day. The result? A novel about identity, love, and what it's like to make a musical out of your own life. You know, the universal themes.

My third novel with Rachel Cohn, called Dash and Lily's Book of Dares, came out in October 2010. It's a romantic cat-and-mouse chase through New York, with a special shoutout to The Strand, a bookstore I am particularly fond of.

The Lover's Dictionary, my first novel about post-teenagers, was published by FSG at the start of 2011. It's the story of a relationship told entirely in dictionary form. Once again, this started out as a Valentine's Day story, and grew from there. I'd often been asked if it would be different to write about adults than it is to write about teens, and I learned that, no, there isn't any difference. A story is a story. And when I write, I'm not thinking of audience -- just of being true to the story. My hope is Lover's Dictionary is as honest as I can be,

Upcoming? A different kind of YA collaboration for me -- a novel I wrote based on photographs my friend Jonathan Farmer gave me. I never knew which photo would come next, and he never knew what I was writing. The result is a very strange, somewhat dark, portrait of a boy on the verge of a complete breakdown. It's called Every You, Every Me, and it will be published in fall 2011.

Amazon Author Rankbeta 

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#51 in Books > Teens
#51 in Books > Teens

Customer Reviews

The Lover's Dictionary is one of the most creative novels I've read.
Paul G
The style works perfectly to tell a very personal and real love story in a refreshing way.
wokster
While a really short book, I found this book to be very unique and enjoyable.
Sarah Woodard

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 105 people found the following review helpful By Mary Kole on January 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I just finished David Levithan's THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY and thrust it into the hands of the nearest person I saw, so they could love it, too. (Don't worry, I knew them, so it's okay. But I'd still probably give this book out to random people...) I don't usually post Amazon reviews but I had to talk about this book. Like, yesterday. Now, I'm familiar with David's young adult books, NICK AND NORAH, WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON, etc., and, as a children's book professional, was very curious to see how his writing would flow for the adult market. As he said at the ALA conference this past weekend, there's absolutely no difference: his are all just words in the service of a story. And the story in THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY is a great one.

Told in dictionary entries, topped by words that set the tone, DICTIONARY is about two people, one self-conscious, the other sometimes painfully not, and the course of their relationship and cohabitation in New York City. Some entries are poignant, some hilarious, some coy, some painful. From these snatches of memory and thought and feeling, a rich tapestry begins to emerge. It charts very accurately the swell of love, the pangs of betrayal, the small mishaps of the unexciting everyday moments, the lonely and numbing void left behind when feelings, and people, change.

My favorite thing a writer can do is something David did literally dozens of times in DICTIONARY. It's when a character has a thought or does something or feels a certain way...and it's so close to one of my thoughts or feelings or actions...that I have to look over my shoulder, because I swear the author has somehow reached into my head to grab a very private piece of me.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Paul G on January 19, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I saw David Levithan read the book tonight at Borders in NYC--a moving evening. David's passion comes through each line read, each written. I love his books, but I didn't know he was such a wonderful performer. He feels deeply as he reads, and he's hilarious when he isn't breaking your heart--no, he's hilarious when he's breaking your heart too. His is a beautiful heart, such a generous artist. The Lover's Dictionary is one of the most creative novels I've read. Alphabetized entries headed by beautiful words most of us don't take the time to speak anymore give pieces of a relationship that on one page is in devastating freefall, and then in the next entry the lovers are riding the heights. The structure is exhilarating, pulling you inside out with anticipation with each new chapter--and the chapters are short, at times only a line or two long. You want to linger on the language, but the relationship's constant ups and downs keep you moving into the next chapter. I kept thinking, Will they make it? Will their love last? It doesn't and it does--I won't spoil it for you. But having the chance to root for these two people was uplifting.

The writing is gorgeous. I always feel this way about David's books, but TLD is different. It's so very poetic. With few words, the author had me hoping, wishing, wistful at times but above all laughing. So many moments in here rang true with my direct experience. That's my very favorite thing about the book: It speaks to so many of us, man, woman, gay, straight, human. It's a wonderful gift to us, to be able to see ourselves in a romance so heartfelt--and so cinematic. David's language is evocative. His characters are our friends, and I was blessed to spend time with them. Truly a lovely work of art, and a terrifically fun read too.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Chin-Tser Huang on February 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There have been countless books on the theme of love, seriously or romantically alike. Hence, it is getting extremely hard to write one more book about love that could distinguish itself. Somehow David found some magic to achieve this task -- in his debut of adult novels, amazingly. I love it very much and think that it is in some way comparable to Barthes' "A Lover's Discourse: Fragments", just a modernized version. When you read it, don't be afraid to let the stories connect to your own, and don't hesitate to laugh out about how real they are. Highly recommended.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on January 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
David Levithan is an unapologetic romantic. His young adult novels co-written with Rachel Cohn (NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST, DASH & LILY'S BOOK OF DARES) are joyful celebrations of quirky young romance, and his collection of love stories, HOW THEY MET, remains one of my favorite books on the topic of love. Many of those tales had their origin in his tradition of writing a Valentine's Day story for his family and friends. Now, in his first novel marketed to adults, Levithan offers an unusual portrait of a long-term relationship, exploring not only How They Met but also How They (Almost?) Fell Apart.

THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY is told not chronologically but alphabetically, as Levithan's narrator uses a series of dictionary entries to tell the story of his love for an unnamed woman. Although the first entry (aberrant, adj.) tells of their first date --- the two met on an online dating site --- after that, the entries move back and forth freely in time, from their earliest courtship to the most recent betrayal that has stressed the relationship to the brink.

We're told this story from the point of view of the man in the relationship; we never hear the woman's own voice (except as reported by the narrator). Surprisingly, though, we do learn a lot about her. She's charismatic, impulsive, maybe more than a little untrustworthy. She has a tendency to drink too much, but people (almost) always forgive her because she's so darn charming. And she inevitably fails to put the cap back on the toothpaste, but our narrator usually keeps his mouth shut. Because, well, he loves her.
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