The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan

Friday, February 18, 2011


This book.

Well, I highlighted over half of it. And I read about a third of it out loud to my husband as he diligently tried to focus on his tissue biology homework. I didn't cry, but I think I connected with it on a deeper level than tears.

There is a passage in John Steinbeck's The Winter of Our Discontent where the main voice, Ethan, despairs because no matter how much he loves his wife, no matter how well he knows her habits and cadences and mannerisms, he cannot be inside her head. No matter what, he can't understand completely because he is separate. There is another book I read like this too, and I can't remember what it was but I think it was Madeleine L'Engle, and she says something along the same lines - we can't perfectly understand each other because we have bodies, and they separate our souls from each other so that we can't know each other perfectly.

The reason why I love books is because they transcend this barrier and let us right into the author's head. Or the character's head. Some authors are better at this than others, and in this book, David Levithan is the best. It always surprises me to find emotions that I thought were my private property echoed in someone else's voice. This book brings you right into the raw, conflicting, alternatingly beautiful and tragic facets of love.

I should back up. The Lover's Dictionary is a love story told in definitions. Each page has a word on it, and a little anecdote follows the word. Slowly and un-chronologically, the love story unfolds.

I loved both of these people so much. I was so sad when the book ended because I wanted to spend more time with them. They are at times cruel and petty, but also witty and passionate. In them I saw represented the faults that we all have - of getting annoyed over small interruptions to our routine, of being selfish, of refusing to admit that we are wrong - but also the greatness of the human soul when it is transformed by love. Which, thank goodness, is a capability we all have.

This book was also hilarious. Case in point:

anachronism, n.
"I'll go get the horse and buggy," you'll say.
And I'll say, "But I thought we were taking the hovercraft!"

Or try
scapegoat, n.
I think our top two are:
1. Not enough coffee.
2. Too much coffee.
And then there are those things that I thought were only hallmarks of how I acted in relationships: "I was still scared by every gap in our conversation, fearing that this was it, the point where we had nothing left to say." Or "I'm careful what songs I play. I try to speak to you with my selections." Or when the lovers trace back their random conversation to its roots.

I loved this book because it spoke to me. It touched my emotions, it made me laugh, and the only bad thing I can say about it is that it ended. The format was amazingly creative, the writing was beautiful and poignant, and I read it in one day, tossing aside all responsibilities to devour the pages.

Please read this book.

Love, me.

5 out of 5 stars. No further qualifications needed.

PS: 'Twas my February Just For Fun Challenge pick.


  1. I'm so So SO happy you loved this book. :) I love how you reviewed it, it brought the book back to me vividly. Esp. love this sentence: "It always surprises me to find emotions that I thought were my private property echoed in someone else's voice." So true. My husband and I both felt the same way--he read the "aloof" page ("what are you thinking?") and was stunned to see his experience related so perfectly.

  2. We have very different opinions about this book!I think I'm about the only person who didn't. Glad that you enjoyed it though!

  3. Lorren, this sounds brilliant and gorgeous. I heard a poem recently written like a dictionary, and I loved it. I am going to go find this book tomorrow.

  4. Wow. This sounds intriguing! Thanks for the review. I had never heard of it before, but I will definitely give it a try.

  5. I'll have to read it. I'm putting it on my list!

  6. I adore David Levithan and can't wait to read this! I'm now looking forward to The Winter of our Discontent even more also!

  7. You sold me. I need to just read half as fast as you to get through my current stack. I finished Kartography and loved it. I feel like I need to and want to read it again soon and then you need to come to Mo-town for when we do it for book club. :)

  8. @Melody - Thanks! I loved the aloof page too. I think "What are you thinking?" is a question everyone asks at some point in a relationship, even though the simple act of asking doesn't necessarily bring you what you want.

    @Sarah - I read your review and what you said got me thinking. It is true that their relationship seemed really dysfunctional. But I think part of the beauty of the relationship is that they are able to work through it.

    @A Mitton - I saw your comments on it on your blog and they made me happy. What is the poem that you read?

    @Esoteric Muse - I hope you like it!

    @Chrystie - Do it! :)

    @Amanda - I hope you love it! You are actually the one to introduce me to David Levithan - I picked up Dash and Lily's Book of Dares after reading about it on your blog. I am interested to hear your thoughts about The Winter of Our Discontent.

    @Kathryn - Yay! I'm so happy you read Kartography. And I would love to come to Mo-town for book club, especially if it is Kartography. I haven't read the whole thing in a couple of years so it would be fun to read it again and discuss it! Whether for book club or not I definitely miss you guys and want to see you soon!


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