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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

10 Heart Review: The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

The Lover's Dictionary
David Levithan

Page Count: 211

Release Date: January 4th, 2011
Publisher: Farrar, Straux, & Giroux (MacMillan)
Source: Purchased
Rating: ♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

A love story told in dictionary entries. 

basis, n.

There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you’re in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn’t pass, that’s it—you’re done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it’s even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover’s face.

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.
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 to represent life. No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.

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.


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)


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!


juxtaposition, n.
It scares me how hard it is to remember life before you. I can't even make the comparisons anymore, because my memories of that time have all the depth of a photograph. It seems foolish to play games of better and worse. It's simply a matter of is and is no longer.


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 Americanflag

10 hearts: I'm speechless; this book is an extraordinarily amazingly wonderfully fantastically marvelous masterpiece. Drop everything and go buy yourself a copy now! (x)