My Thoughts on David Levithan, The Lover's Dictionary

Title: The Lover's Dictionary
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux
Date: 2011
Genre: Fiction, Experimental Structure

211 pages.
Where I got it:Public Library
Challenges: None

I haven't read much of David Levithan's young adult work, except for Will Grayson Will Grayson, which I adored.  I was immediately intrigued by his adult novel, The Lover's Dictionary, because of its unusual structure.  The book is written in dictionary entries that track the course of a relationship, perhaps to its "zenith," the final entry (that's not really a spoiler, see the perhaps).

The relationship that Levithan chronicles is not perfect, but it is real.  It is romantic in moments and honest.  The author's relationship with language, his tumultuous love with the writing is chronicled as well.  In fact, my favorite passages in the book are the entries about language.  For instance:

yarn, n. 
Maybe language is kind, giving us these double meanings. Maybe it's trying to teach us a lesson, that we can always be two things at once.
ineffable, adj.
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.

As you can tell, the book's attitude toward love is bittersweet.  The prose is charming and often funny.  We never learn much about the couple in any traditional sense: their jobs, their appearance, even the gender of the beloved (although we do know that the narrator is male).  What we do learn is that their relationship is sometimes perfect, sometimes not, sometimes humorous, and sometimes irritating, exciting and banal.  The book is written in the second person, "you," and so the object of the narrator's love could be anyone, man or woman, an every-relationship.  I drank the book down mostly in one sitting, like a hot drink that comforts, but only after it slightly burns your tongue.

flux, n.
The natural state.  Our moods change. Our lives change. Our feelings for each other change. Our bearings change. The song changes. The air changes. The temperature of the shower changes.
     Accept this. We must accept this. 



  1. I loved, loved, loved this book. I thought it was beautiful and read it twice in 24 hours. One of my favorite entries was cadence:

    cadence, n.

    I have never lived anywhere but New York or New England, but there are times when I'm talking to you and I hit a Southern vowel, or a word gets caught in a Southern truncation, and I know it's because I'm swimming in your cadences, that you permeate my very language.

    Just lovely.

  2. This sounds intriguing, and I'm going to have to see if I can get my hands on it at the library. Thanks for an excellent review!

  3. @ A Mitton: That is a good one. The best word I can think of for the book is charming. It really charmed me (which is how I feel about Maira Kalman too if you haven't checked her out).

    @bookishhobbit: It is a good one. It was definitely worth waiting in my library's queue.

  4. Thanks for the review! I don't think I've come across a negative review for this title.

  5. I kept seeing this book promoted everywhere and was feeling like I'd already read it. Then I remembered that a few years ago I read M. Schiel's An Encyclopedia of Love, which is also written in dictionary format and is about a woman's relationship with a dying man. It was okay, as far as I remember.

  6. This book sounds different and a bit odd and now I really want to read it! I haven't heard of anyone giving it a bad review yet.

  7. @short story slore- I haven't seen any bad reviews either. It was a really fun, but unique read. It's quick too. You can definitely read it in one sitting.


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