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.
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.
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
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.
David Levithan's "The Lover's Dictionary" is a unique novel, written in the form of a dictionary, A to Z, from a man's point of view about his relationship with his female lover. Each letter provides the man an opportunity to divulge more about the relationship, either directly or indirectly through a word starting with that letter.
While a unique concept, "The Lover's Dictionary" could certainly have floundered without a delicate touch and Levithan demonstrates his skill in how he tells the story through both everyday and less familiar words. He doesn't resort to linear storytelling, matching the structure of the A to Z set-up of a dictionary, which creates better intrique with the characters and maintains one interest for you are unsure what little insight or nugget you'll encounter at what point. Levithan creates this intrique in other ways throughout the book --- never naming the male and female characters, rarely directly referencing the chapter word in the prose of that chapter and revealing early in the book that this dictionary from the male narrator is the one "secret" he maintains from his female lover.
Ultimately, "The Lover's Dictionary" succeeds so well not because of its concept, but as a result of the beautiful detail and nuance Levithan uses to bring us the story of these two characters and cause us to think about similar words to describe our own relationships and the ups and downs with the person you love or have loved and lost.
on June 21, 2014
I was really ecstatic when I heard that that David Levithan was writing an adult novel because I love me some David and I read quite a bit of adult as well…and because it was about loooove. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but I knew if it was like most of David’s novels I’d feel some sort of connection to it.
The Lover’s Dictionary was SUCH an interestingly lovely read that I DEVOURED in a day. Each page contains a passage of prose that reflects a word from the dictionary and it is written as though it is a dictionary entry. The passages range in length, some being a sentence or two and some being half of a page long, and follow the love story between a nameless narrator and his lover. You feel kind of a distance at first because you are only seeing snippets (not chronologically) of their love story and because they ARE nameless but you find yourself reading these intensely intimate thoughts and raw emotions and this couple becomes so exposed as the book gives glimpses into some of the most joyful and exciting times in their relationship as well as some of the most difficult and trying times in their relationship.
This book was really such an honest portrayal of the many facets of love as it examines the joys, the doubts, the heartbreaks, the sacrifices and the different nuances and quirks in the love affair between two people. Some passages made me laugh, cry and reflect on my own relationship as certain feelings or situations would hit close to home. The writing was exquisite and I found myself bookmarking page after page thinking that each passage was my new favorite only for it to be dethroned by another.
Some I wanted to share:
these words will ultimately end up being the barest of reflections, devoid of the sensations words cannot convoy. 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.“
“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together”
Sometimes I love it when we just lie on our backs, gaze off, stay still.
There are SO many wonderful lines and passages in this book but I tried to pick some shorter ones that stood out in my mind.
My final thought: This book was a gem! Upon finishing it I just held it close to my chest because I was amazed at how raw it was and how much I connected with it. I thought of the moments that made my heart flutter in my relationship, I thought about the doubt and the act of learning how to trust in a relationship, the beauty in the mundane and the wonderful journey love really is despite how hard it can be to love and let yourself be loved in a relationship. The prose was something to be savored and I have no doubts that I will read this book again as it has a permanent place on my shelf. Levithan’s delivery was creative and I found the his connection to each of the words to be genius. I’d recommend to lovers of adult fiction who don’t mind something different and who don’t need to be wooed by a fast moving plot.
This book, which can be polished off in one short sitting, tells the story of a relationship through brief "dictionary" entries.
We learn of a couple who remain nameless meeting through an online dating service, falling in love, moving in together and getting to know each other. There is an act of infidelity from one of the partners which they struggle to overcome.
The book is of course witty as everything by this author is. Some of the entries are very short, others a little more substantial. Some provoke "aha" moments; some display real insight into the way we meet, court and love. We learn a certain amount, but not too much, about the two characters. And then, it's over.
I guess souffle has it's own honorable part on the menu of any restaurant. But this book didn't really satisfy my hunger. It was, to extend the culinary metaphor, an "amuse bouche" - tastes good but where's the meat and potatoes?
on January 4, 2016
It's been a long time since I've encountered a book that's moved me as much as The Lover's Dictionary has. I knew from page 1 that I'd end up treasuring it, mainly because I've anticipated it for so long and finally just sat down and picked it up—which I'm not sure why I didn't do sooner, since it's such a short read. Being a frequent retweeter from the book's Twitter page, I had high expectations with this one, and honestly, every single one of them were met.
Writing this review is proving to be difficult because The Lover's Dictionary's format and plot layout are both quite unusual. The obvious novelty of this story is that it's not narrated traditionally with chapters, but rather through individual dictionary entries, in second person by an unnamed protagonist to his lover. The whammy is that these little vignettes are arranged alphabetically, not chronologically—as dictionaries tend to be organized—so the lovers' story is non-linear, and is rather told in sporadic moments with which anyone who's been in love will be able to relate: frustration, butterflies, doubt, insecurity, optimism about the future, exasperation, elation. Each entry is its own story, spare on words but regardless extremely high-impact.
This non-chronological sequence of events is far from confusing or difficult to read, however; somehow, Levithan still makes it work because the story itself does not require a definitive beginning or end. All we know is that there is a couple, there is a conflict, and there is no clean resolution—because in real life, there hardly ever is. That's what I think makes it so potent; its implications regarding the ineffability of love are so relatable, so real.
The plot itself isn't necessarily a sweeping romance, nor a particularly profound love story—that's not why I love this book. In fact, the dictionary entries, while beautifully crafted, are vague and often unsettling, but each of them packs a strong punch. I was sucked in immediately because the main problem is introduced so early on, but it's only unraveled as you read further down the alphabet. The inevitable doom of the relationship's tragedy is always hanging in the air, impending, and the distressing feeling that it probably won't have a tidy tucked-away ending will constantly stick with you. You'll either be enchanted by Levithan's interpretation of each word, or find yourself relating to each on a near-spiritual level; there isn't a single page that I didn't like in this novel.
Pros: Touching, breathtaking // Relatable in the subtlest aspects that everyone notices in relationships, but don't necessarily always put to words // Portrays love beautifully, humanly // Unusual concept of book structure, but I found it clever and very absorbing // Conveys a realistic view of a romance, as deep and exhausting as it may be—they don't always "end" like they do in books and movies // A very quick read, since each "chapter" is composed of one dictionary entry (1-2 pages each)
Cons: Not a problem with the book itself, but with my inability to express with words how great it is: my review and the back cover synopsis do not do it justice!
Verdict: Remarkable in ways that my own words fail to sufficiently articulate, The Lover's Dictionary is a comforting, candid, and devastating characterization of love, and the parallel irony to ever be able to adequately write about it. If I don't have you convinced, check out the corresponding Twitter page for a more succinct preview of what the book is like. David Levithan has an extensive fan base for valid reason; his grasp on the written word is adept, his understanding of the human tendency to fall in love with flaws is painfully accurate, and when his dictionary entries are pieced together, the end result is simultaneously witty and evocative. This is the kind of book I wish I could write: a subtle masterpiece and a hefty accomplishment.
Rating: 10 out of 10 hearts (5 stars): I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece. Drop everything and go buy yourself a copy now!
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.
on May 28, 2013
I was fortunate enough to hear David Levithan speak about how he came up with the idea for the book at last year's National Bookfest. A love story told solely via dictionary entries?! As a Valentine's Day present for friends?! Count me in!The concept was so unique that I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. And I did. And I read the entire thing in a single sitting. On my lunch hour. At work. That's how quick, easy and engaging this book is. I'm kinda kicking myself for waiting so long to read it. So yeah, now I guess I'm a lover of love.
The Lover's Dictionary is not only unique in how it tells the story but also because we never really get to know the subjects of whom it's about. I mean, we get to see some of the most personal and intimate segments of their relationship, but there are no names or descriptions of the couple to be found. At first, this was kind of distracting because I spent so much time trying to put faces to these people, but after awhile, I realized that it didn't matter. Your focus turns solely to the relationship and the internal dialogue of the narrator instead of the usual details that anchor down a story. You stop thinking about the people and start thinking about the love drives them. And that's where the genius of the book lies --- in its simplicty.
Visa vie small passages, The Lover's Dictionary reveals anecdotes of love, both the good kind and the bad, narrated by one half of this couple. These snippets are not in chronological order but each entry touches on the mundane and the special moments between the two. We're shown the various stages of their relationship --- from the butterflies of a first kiss to the irksome habits that go hand in hand with living with someone --- and in a way, each and every one of these moments was relatable to me. We've all be there in some way at some point in our lives. I know I've experienced the nagging doubts as well as the euphoria that accompanies a new relationship. And that's what makes the story so compelling. It felt like Levithan was in my head, putting every feeling I've ever had in just about every relationship right down there on that page... only much more eloquently.
And though we get to see the many wonderful things that go along with being in a relationship, this book isn't all sunshine and rainbows. In addition to the good, we're privy to the bad. There's nagging self doubt, betrayals of the worst kind, hardships to endure and that unfiltered emotion that plagues the narrator. It's a very real, very raw, uncensored look inside the narrator's head as we go through the various stages of the relationship. And while it might not always be pleasant, while it might conjure up some tough memories from my own past, it was unfaltering and honest. We learn that love can sometimes be fleeting but it is also complex and oh so worth it.
Food for Thought: The Lover's Dictionary is a sad yet hopeful, raw and incredibly clever book about love and relationships. It's simple and compelling and heartbreaking and swoony all at the same time. The book is compact and easy to read. In fact, it reads more like a short story than a novel, cutting out all the nonsense and shooting straight for the core. For such a fighter, this book definitely made a lover out of me.