The Lover’s Dictionary

The Lover's Dictionary by David LevithanThe Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Number of pages: 211
My copy: hardbound, ordered from Book Depository

A sweet and touching modern love story, told through 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.

* * *

When I first heard about David Levithan’s latest book, The Lover’s Dictionary, I wanted to read it only because of the clever idea behind the book. I love anything that involves wordplay. I loved the idea that this book is told using dictionary words, and for some reason, this gives me the feeling that this book has a universal feel to it, like anyone could relate to an entry here at one point. I ordered a copy off Book Depository a few weeks ago after I realized that it’s cheaper there, and when it finally arrived, I actually dropped the books I was reading to devour this one.

The Lover’s Dictionary is quite easy to devour given its short, dictionary-like format. This book, as mentioned in the blurb, tells the story of an unnamed couple, written using different words from a dictionary. The narrator, who is a guy based on the entries, is a writer while the girl seemed like a wild, whimsical character who seems to have enchanted our narrator. But as their relationship goes on, it gets harder for the both of them, and we readers are left wondering if the they decide to stay together or part.

The entries weren’t written in chronological order so the timeline tends to jump from one anecdote to another, while others just seem like a sharing, or a comment on how the relationship is or how each has changed because of the relationship. It’s equal parts sad and happy, a lot mushy and it tends to leave the readers pondering on what makes a relationship tick. There’s something about finding common ground, which I really liked:

akin, adj.

I noticed on your profile that you said you said you loved Charlotte’s Web. So it was something we talked about on that first date, about how much the world radiant sealed it for ach of us, and how the most heartbreaking moment isn’t when Charlotte dies, but when it looks like all of her children will leave Wilbur, too.

In the long view, did it matter that we shared this? Did it matter that we both drank coffee at night and both happened to go to Barcelona the summer after our senior year? In the long view, was it such a revelation that we were both ticklish and that we both liked dogs more than cats? Really, weren’t these facts just placeholders until the long view could truly assert itself?

We were paining by numbers, starting with the greens. Because that happened to be our favorite color. And this, we figured, had to mean something.

Or this, about being intimidated by one another:

daunting, adj.

Really, we should use this more as a verb. You daunted me, and I daunted you. Or would it be that I was daunted by you and you were daunted by me? That sounds better. it daunted me that you were so beautiful, that you were so ate ease in social situations, as if every room was heliotropic, with you at the center. And I guess it daunted you that I had so many more friends than you, that I could put words together like this, on paper, and could sometimes conjure a certain sense out of things.

The key is to never recognize these imbalances. To not let the dauntingness daunt us.

I’m pretty sure the story the authors intended for the characters here is not the same for everyone, but I think everyone who’s ever loved will find that they are able to relate to one or two or more entries in The Lover’s Dictionary. This makes the book very rereadable, especially in random — just pick it up, open to a page and read. This book also makes me wonder: if I were to make a dictionary of my own love life, what words would I use?

But alas, my own love life is still nonexistent. That fact made me a bit distant to the novel, because I can’t relate. Not yet, anyway. However, The Lover’s Dictionary affirms things that I know, based from stories, reading and yes, even experiences (the proper place to elaborate on this is on my personal blog :P): relationships are messy, it takes a lot of work and it would hurt both parties a lot…but allow me to believe that even so, relationships can be beautiful at the same time. :)

Whether you’re a romantic or not, I recommend The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I’m sure you’ll find a bit of yourself in one of the entries in this dictionary.

Rating: [rating=4]

Other notes:
For some reason, this book reminded me of this short YouTube movie by WongFu Productions, Strangers again:


Other reviews:
Book Harbinger

14 Thoughts on “The Lover’s Dictionary

  1. Shhh, don’t tell anyone but I’ve yet to read a Levithan novel. (I know, I know!) Also, you love WongFu Productions?! ME TOO.

    • The only other Levithan I read was Dash and Lily. It’s okay, I won’t tell. :D

      Yes, WongFu Productions. Awesome stuff. My friends and I had a lengthy discussion about that Strangers again video after we have all watched it. Haha talk about taking it all seriously.

  2. I am a wordplay fiend as well. It’s one of the things that I find a lot of and enjoy in kid lit. It don’t think I have read a young adult book that is big on word play yet, it looks like this is it. This is will be a great read while waiting on a line or while riding a vehicle waiting for your stop. :)

    • This is classified more as an adult book, actually. But yes, I think you’ll enjoy this one. :) However, I think you’ll end up wanting to read at least one more entry before stopping — I had to force myself to stop at the letter S before I decided to stop reading when I had this at the gym. :)

  3. This looks a fun read, I like the idea of wordplay, it seems like a collection of prose poetry.
    And I’ve seen the mini film before and I really like it. It hit straight in the heart.

  4. I was hoping to get this book for a friend but I wasn’t too keen on reading it myself just yet. I rarely give books that I haven’t read but I’m quite ready to make another exception in this case, thanks to your review.

    • You’re welcome! It’s just a bit too expensive for a thin volume, but it looks pretty in hardcover. :)

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