107 of 109 people found the following review helpful
on January 11, 2011
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. Maybe it's the fact that, like his characters, I'm twentysomething and have marked my relationship status "It's Complicated" a few too many times on Facebook...maybe he's just a damn good writer...but THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY is one of those rare gems that threaten to keep me up all night, deep in thought.
Young adult author Mitali Perkins likes to talk about good books being both mirrors and windows. Mirrors, because they show you parts of yourself, something for you to relate to. They're also windows that show a reader another world or slice of life or outlook on the world. THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY was both window and mirror (but not a full-length mirror...read the book to find out...), and I give it my highest praise. My only criticism is that it was too short. I would've kept reading, with pleasure, if it had been the length of a real dictionary.
31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 19, 2011
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. I think it's the kind of book I might just get up the courage to read aloud with my wife--maybe after a beer or two. Thank you to David Levithan for putting the brakes on my cynicism for a night, for giving me one of the most rewarding reads I've had in a while, and to FSG for publishing such a beautiful work of art.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 26, 2011
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. In this way --- the tiny details he shares about his beloved and their life together, the way he tells their story --- we also come to know our narrator, to long for this quiet, seemingly vulnerable man to find lasting happiness.
It's an impressive feat that, in "dictionary entries" (one to a page) that are sometimes as short as a single sentence, Levithan manages not only to provide such depths of characterization but also to offer genuine insights into this very particular love story and the nature of any long-term romantic relationship. For example, "balk, v. I was the one who said we should live together. And even as I was doing it, I knew this would mean that I would be the one to blame if it all went wrong. Then I consoled myself with this: if it all went wrong, the last thing I'd care about was who was to blame for moving in together." Or this: "reservation, n. There are times when I worry that I've already lost myself. That is, that my self is so inseparable from being with you that if we were to separate, I would no longer be. I save this thought for when I feel the darkest discontent. I never meant to depend so much on someone else."
THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY is a series of these small truths --- mixed with the nuances, frustrations and joys of this particular relationship. It's the kind of book you want to give to your friends who have been together forever, the ones whose relationship you admire; the kind of book you hesitantly give to the person you've just started seeing, while you're both still asking if this is "the one"; the kind of book you someday hope to read aloud from, in bed, to the person you love, waiting for the knowing look you'll see when he or she recognizes that this story is also your story, the story of everyone who has found --- and fought for --- the elusive thing called love.
--- Reviewed by Norah Piehl
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2011
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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2012
I guess I should start with a made-up definition of my own:
Followers of David Levithan.
There. I said it. Judge me if you wish, but know I'll just hide behind my copy of The Lover's Dictionary. For I am a Levithanite. And in the grammatically flawed words of MC Hammer, "U can't touch this."
Now, while not the typical "Kristin pick" (yes, I refer to myself in third person on occasion), I couldn't help but purchase this book after an author event here in New York City. David was there (yes, we're on a first-name basis now), along with a slew of other fabulous and incredibly talented authors. I approached him after the event and I was sold. Instantly.
It's a wonderful thing, you know? When you take a chance on a book.
The Lover's Dictionary is genius in its simplicity. The non-traditional novel, which is told through dictionary entries, unfolds the makings and ends, the comings and goings, of a most off-beat, charming, and outright REAL relationship. And how Levithan managed to pull that off may be one of life's biggest enigmas. Up there along with the death of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. (Too soon? - Well, now that my site's been flagged by the government, I guess there's no turning back). It's safe to say that David captures love in its barest form.
It's kind of hard for me to describe just how wonderfully this novel unfolds, so I'll let the book do some of the talking for me. Still, I am afraid I can't do it justice.
Those mornings when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word.
I know, right?!
The date before the one with you had gone so badly -- egotist, smoker, bad breath -- that I'd vowed to delete my profile the next morning. Except when I went to do it, I realized I only had eight days left in the billing cycle. So I gave it eight days. You emailed me on the sixth.
and then there's...
There are millions upon millions of people who have been through this before -- why is it that no one can give me good advice?
So, if you're looking to experience the throes of lust, the ups and downs of a lover's path, and the magic of falling deeply in love, look no further than The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan.
It's unlike any love story you'll ever read. #fact
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.5 Stars (or 3 stars "liked it" on Goodreads)
When it's going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It's there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It's there in the book you're reading. It's there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It's there as you open the door. As you stare off into the subway, it's what you're looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It's the temperature.
The hitch, of course, it that when it's going badly, it's in all the same places."
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan is just that - an exploration of love relationships of the romantic kind, for better or for worse. Though billed as a novel, it reads more like a collection of poems in the format of dictionary entries. There is a story about a nameless main character and his significant other, who could be a he or a she, but the book is less about their individual relationship and more about the nature of all relationships in the modern world, from the mundane progression and determination of meeting, dating, and moving in together to the profound, universal, yet unique feelings of attachment and commitment experienced when you're in love. Instead of moving chronologically, snapshots of the middle, beginning, and end are sprinkled throughout the alphabetical entries. Like the recent film 500 Days of Summer, as you read The Lover's Dictionary you'll have an idea of where the narrator's at times smooth and rocky relationship is going before you know how it began. Because of this skipping order and the vague identities of the lovers it lacks the plot suspense and character development of a traditional novel. Still, it offers some suspense in when and how the clues of what went right and what went wrong are dropped. However, Levithan's first adult novel shines the brightest in those entries which muse upon what is means to love and be loved. My favorite entries were those which broke down the definition of a word and how that word relates and brings new insight to our perception of love. A favorite entry and standout definition for the novel itself:
Oh, how I hated this word. So pretentious, like it was always being translated from the French. The tint and taint of illicit, illegitimate affections. Dictionary meaning: a person having a love affair. Impermanent. Unfamilial. Inextricably linked to sex.
I have never wanted a lover. In order to have a lover, I must go back to the root of the word. For I have never wanted a lover, but I have always wanted to love, and to be loved.
There is no word for the recipient of the love. There is only a word for the giver. There is the assumption that lovers come in pairs.
When I say, Be my lover, I don't mean, Let's have an affair. I don't mean, Sleep with me. I don't mean, Be my secret.
I want us to go back down to that root.
I want you to be the one who loves me.
I want to be the one who loves you."
If you love words, there are several other entries like this which parse a word in order to shed hidden and lost meaning to an otherwise common, everyday word. Though I didn't enjoy the format as much as a full-length novel - the timely specifics of the modern, no name couple's relationship resulted in an impersonal feel - I appreciated the original, creative idea behind it and Levithan's inspired writing. Though short in length it's something to mull over, go back, and reread rather than cruise through. Some of the more thought-provoking entries will stick with me and have changed how I think about a particular word. The Lover's Dictionary is my first read by Levithan and a great introduction to his writing. Fans of his work will devour it. Now I just need to decide which of his books I'll be reading next.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2011
One of the most touching and heartfelt books I've ever read. I read it as a galley copy and have already lent it to several friends (all who have loved it too).
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 24, 2012
When will I ever learn? You would think that after the debacle with The Man With Dancing Eyes by Sophia Dahl that I would have learned to stay away from these sorts of literary fiction books. While I admit I was mostly drawn to the cover I also hoped that this book would actually be good.
This book while I found to be a unique take on what a romance is through the use of words I felt it was lacking. However if you are to look at the reviews for it on Goodreads you will probably see that I'm in the minority in thinking this. Perhaps this is another one of those it was me not the book that prevented me from liking the book more because I honestly didn't find it to be anything more than a mediocre book that I read to pass the time the other night when I couldn't sleep and I read it all in one sitting.
To me it felt that the author was trying to be more unique or "artsy" in certain parts of the book and we all know what happens when an author tries too hard to write something. It generally doesn't come out that well sadly. Yet I'm glad that I gave this book a try because it was a change from the other books I've been reading lately and it did help pass the time.
I personally wouldn't recommend this book to people that I didn't already know liked these types of books and I hope if the author does try again to write a book I hope its much better.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on February 18, 2011
(Review originally posted at GoneWithTheWords.com)
This story about a couple who meets online, falls in love, moves in together and almost falls apart over a drunken mistake is told brilliantly by David Levithan. We are given intimate details, precious insights, about this couple, told to us in alphabetical order. Each word will either make you smile, swoon, or break your heart. I liked that it read almost like a journal, a very poetical one mind you, and that it was not in any way linear. Because of that, each time you read a certain word and its entry, you'll find yourself wondering where you'll read the next piece of story. What I loved most was the realism of this story...the emotions and problems could all have been mine because this couple could totally be you...you relate and connect with them. I completely recommend The Lover's Dictionary. :)
Some non-spoilery quotes I bookmarked (there were A LOT!):
This is dedicated to your co-worker Marilynn.
Marilynn, please stop talking about your sister's pregnancy.
And please stop showing up late.
And please stop asking my lover to drinks.
And please stop humming while you type.
I'm tired of hearing about it."
You wanted to keep the list on the refrigerator.
"No," I said. "That's too public."
What I meant was: Aren't you embarrassed by how much you owe me?"
These words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convey. Trying to write about love is ultimately like trying to have a dictionary represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough."
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2012
This is not really a 210 page book. It would be about 40-50 pages if laid out like a normal dictionary. Many of the pages have only 1 or 2 lines of text on them and only 3 or 4 pages are completely full. That makes for a quick read but I felt a little ripped off.
Some of the definitions are quite good and remind me of a few of the better quips from Dear Old Love Anonymous Notes to Former Crushes, Sweethearts, Husbands, Wives & Ones That Got Away which is another short book which it at least has the decency to admit it. One does get a sense of the relationship and both its highs and lows but with only a few sentences and all the definitions being jumbled together in time it is hard to get the true flavor of the relationship at any specific point. Which when recalling a relationship from the past may not be completely inaccurate but nonetheless makes for a slightly less satisfying experience for the reader. A similar book that I think does this much better because it provides several pages per word is: In the Language of Love a Novel in 100 Chapters which uses as its source the 100 stimulus words from the Standard Word Association Test. With Language of Love despite skipping back and forth in time you always feel like you know when you are. Lover's Dictionary often leaves you wondering.
So I guess that about says it all. It's a pretty good book but I can think of several similar books that are better.