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The Lover's Dictionary
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The Lover's Dictionary

4.3 89
by David Levithan

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

Veronique de Turenne

David Levithan, the author of eight novels aimed at young adults (and co-author of four more, including Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist) makes his first foray into adult fiction with The Lover's Dictionary. It's a quirky assortment of defined words whose meanings add up to the arc of a two-year romance. Told in first-person by a man whose name we never learn, this dictionary's sole resemblance to the real thing starts and ends with its alphabetical structure.

A isn't for Apple here, it's for Aberrant, as in "'I don't normally do this sort of thing,' you said. 'Neither do I,' I assured you.'" The definition lets us know the couple met online and slept together on the first date. With entries as short as a five-word sentence ("reverberate, v. Why did your father leave?") to definitions that run on for a page or two, the details trickle out. The narrator and his girlfriend live together in Manhattan. They keep their books on separate shelves. She drinks too much. He's insecure. She has more than a few secrets. He fights the urge to read her email.

Word by word, Levithan patiently builds a portrait of a love story. As a reader, you'd better be patient, too. The details trickle out, often frank and funny, occasionally heartbreaking. Words like aloof, corrode, cajole, kerfuffle and, yes, love ("n. I'm not going to even try.") build not so much a novel as a line drawing of a relationship.

Whether things end well or badly with "zenith, n." is for the reader to decide, and may well tip the balance of whether this sweet but slight volume gets tucked into a beloved's Valentine's Day's day bouquet.

--Veronique de Turenne

Publishers Weekly
This cute "novel" by YA author Levithan consists of a series of words and their definitions, each evoking a phase or theme about a fledgling romance. (e.g., fledgling: "Part of the reason I preferred reading to sex was that I at least knew I could read well"). The entries do gradually unravel a love story: the narrator has met a woman ("you") through an online dating site (aberrant: "‘I don't normally do this kind of thing,' you said. ‘Neither do I,' I assured you"). He endures all the writhings of new love, by turns eager, reserved, and hopeful about their evolving relationship, and transported by the joy of mutual exploration, the two move in together (balk: "If it all went wrong, the last thing I'd care about was who was to blame for moving in together") and are eventually undone (livid: "You went and broke our lives"). Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor (that just happens to hit shelves around Valentine's Day) is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan's wit. (Feb.)
Library Journal
A author Levithan (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) enters the adult market with a novel posing as a dictionary. Written from the perspective of a man in an unnamed couple, each entry, from "aberrant" to "zenith," defines a word within the context of their relationship. The entries follow the couple from their online meeting forward into cohabitation. It's not all hearts and flowers: entries are philosophical or melancholic as often as romantic, documenting, among other things, his shyness and intimacy issues and her drinking problem. The results read like little prose poems or especially pithy Facebook posts. This is an easy book to zip through in one or two sittings, but be forewarned: a dictionary doesn't end with happily, or unhappily, ever after. It's a book of moments, not conclusions; reading them can get addictive. VERDICT This intimate, honest look at how one plus one can be both more and less than two is strongly recommended for readers who don't need a high degree of specificity or resolution. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews

A young man chooses an unusual format to record the details of his longtime relationship with a woman he meets online.

The two unnamed lovers at the heart of this bittersweet take on love and commitment have a common enough story. Boy meets girl, they fall hard for each other, move into an apartment, and then wonder if they should even be together. The boy, a New York literary type, chooses to tell their story as an A-Z glossary, with each word definition standing in for something associated with their relationship. The definitions—from "aberrant" to "zenith," and everything in between—offer quick glimpses of two years of couplehood. A lot can be gleaned from the brief entries, which often read as prose poems. The narrator's beloved, we learn, is beautiful, gregarious and drinks too much. He is shy and fastidious. She is bruised from a dysfunctional past, while his childhood was happy. They travel, meet each other's families and fall into routines. He adores her but has doubts about their ultimate compatibility. He struggles with simmering resentments, fears and neediness. And then an episode of infidelity causes possible irreparable damage. Can they even move beyond it? While gimmicky and saddled with a narrator who takes himself a bit too seriously, this adult effort from one of the authors of Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist (2006) still manages to hit some universal truths about love's perfect imperfections.

A quirky Valentine to modern romance, from the guy's point of view.

Yvonne Zipp
…Levithan creates a genuine emotional arc for his unnamed characters that makes this book much more than a gimmick.
—The Washington Post
From the Publisher

“Levithan brings ingenuity and a wry edge to his first adult novel. . . Among the novel's pleasures are micro-stories that speak volumes, reminiscent of Lydia Davis' work. . . There's plenty of reflection, not just on the relationship but on the attempt to distill and describe such complex feeling, including this: ‘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.' That, by the way, is Levithan's definition of ineffable.” —Heller McAlpin, NPR.org

“‘The Lover's Dictionary' is clever and poetic and, sigh, sad. . . The brief entries are like poetry; poetry with a gravitational pull back to the central narrative, which is two people falling in love. The fact that the pieces hold together so well is testament, not only to Levithan's light hand and gracious writing but also to the power of this universal story.” —Susan Salter Reynolds, Newsday

“Young-adult novelist David Levithan doesn't list this entry under the V in the alphabetically headed (and arranged) chapters of ‘The Lover's Dictionary,' his charming short novel about a love affair and its bittersweet evolution from first flirt to shaky domesticity, for lovers of all gender persuasions . . . Surrounded by large amounts of white space--which may be useful for readers as we walk through these dictionary-like entries for musing on our own loves and losses--the spare number of words in Levithan's novel may be just enough . . . But allow me to exclaim. Without ellipsis. (and some white space) Here is a lovely Valentine's Day gift for lovers!” —Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

“Levithan crafts a love affair as sharp, funny, and sad as any you'd find in an epic novel. . . The Lover's Dictionary isn't about how lessons were learned, and in what order--it's a documentation of facts, memories, war wounds. And anyone who has been in a romantic relationship will recognize themselves in Levithan's lovers, from the tiniest details of merging bookshelves and quiet afternoons to the largest anxieties of sexual inadequacy and romantic reciprocity. Levithan's rhapsody is just that: an ode to desire written as an account of the traces such desire leaves behind.” —Jessica Freeman-Slade, TheRumpus.net

“David Levithan makes every word count . . . Levithan gives readers the kind of love story that Billy Pilgrim in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five' would have appreciated: unstuck in time, reliving moments in unpredictable order and in varying emotional colors. . . an equal opportunity romance with wit and rue, kisses and tears, that anyone can enjoy.” —Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“From ‘aberrant' to ‘zenith,' David Levithan's latest creates a relationship in short scenes, packed with lyrical language. Entries slip back and forth in time as they unfold through an alphabet of romance, anger, forgiveness and tenderness to make up one particular relationship . . . The entries manage to be both intently focused and hinting at the larger picture. They read more like a well-crafted series of poems than a linear story line. Each word is defined and captured in a moment of the relationship. Levithan moves from romance to heartbreak to flirtation to devotion, in alphabetical order.” —Elizabeth Willse, Star-Ledger

“Interestingly, each definition is told from the point of view and in the first-person voice of only one of the partners. The other partner's voice remains silent throughout except as quoted by the narrator. Nevertheless, both come wonderfully alive, emerging as complex, multidimensional human beings, happy and unhappy, ebullient and angry, sweet and sour, and so--delightfully--forth. Happily, the order of the alphabet does not dictate the order of the story, which moves backward and forward in time. Thus, the dramatic necessity of conflict arises from one partner's infidelity, the impact of which is then explored at various points in the history of the partnership. Nothing is cut-and-dried, however, for as Levithan demonstrates, intimacy is sometimes enigmatic and, as he notes under ineffable, "No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough." So you must clearly pick and choose which to use, an act that Levithan has accomplished artfully and satisfyingly.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan's wit.” —Publishers Weekly

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.00(d)
800L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt


By David Levithan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC

Copyright © 2011 David Levithan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-374-19368-3

Chapter One

I, n.

Me without anyone else.

idea, n.

"I'm quitting," you say. "I can't believe how wasted I was.

This time, I'm really going to do it."

And I tell you I'll help. It's almost a script at this point.

imperceptible, adj.

We stopped counting our relationship in dates (first date, second date, fifth date, seventh) and started counting it in months. That might have been the first true commitment, this shift in terminology. We never talked about it, but we were at a party and someone asked how long we'd been together, and when you said, "A month and a half," I knew we had gotten there.

impromptu, adj.

I have summer Fridays off; you don't. So what better reason for me to take you to lunch and then keep you at lunch for the whole afternoon? Reserving these afternoons to do all the city things we never get around to doing — wandering through MoMA, stopping in at the Hayden Planetarium, hopping onto the Staten Island Ferry and riding back and forth, back and forth, watching all the people as they unknowingly parade for us. You notice clothes more than I do, so it's a pleasure to hear your running commentary, to construct lives out of worn handbags or shirts opened one button too low. Had we tried to plan these excursions, they never would have worked. There has to be that feeling of escape.

inadvertent, adj.

You left your email open on my computer. I couldn't help it — I didn't open any of them, but I did look at who they were from, and was relieved.

incessant, adj.

The doubts. You had to save me from my constant doubts. That deep-seeded feeling that I wasn't good enough for anything — I was a fake at my job, I wasn't your equal, my friends would forget me if I moved away for a month. It wasn't as easy as hearing voices — nobody was telling me this. It was just something I knew. Everyone else was playing along, but I was sure that one day they would all stop.

indelible, adj.

That first night, you took your finger and pointed to the top of my head, then traced a line between my eyes, down my nose, over my lips, down my neck, to the center of my chest. It was so surprising, I knew I would never mimic it. That one gesture would be yours forever.

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.

infidel, n.

We think of them as hiding in the hills — rebels, ransackers, rogue revolutionaries. But really, aren't they just guilty of infidelity?

innate, adj.

"Why do you always make the bed?" I asked. "We're only going to get back in it later tonight."

You looked at me like I was the worst kind of slacker.

"It's just what I've always done," you said. "We always had to make our bed. Always."

integral, adj.

I was so nervous to meet Kathryn. You'd made it clear she was the only friend whose opinion you really cared about, so I spent more time getting dressed for her than I ever had for you. We met at that sushi place on Seventh Avenue and I awkwardly shook her hand, then told her I'd heard so much about her, which came off like me trying to legitimize your friendship, when I was the one who needed to get the stamp of approval. I was on safer ground once we started talking about books, and she seemed impressed that I actually read them. She remarked on the steadiness of my job, the steadiness of my family. I wasn't sure I wanted to be steady, but she saw my unease and assured me it was a good thing, not usually your type. We found out we'd gone to summer camp within ten minutes of each other, and that sealed it. You were lost in our tales of the Berkshires and the long, unappreciative stretches we'd spent on the Tanglewood lawn.

At the end of the dinner, I got a hug, not a handshake. She seemed so relieved. I should have been glad ... but it only made me wonder about the other guys of yours that she'd met. I wondered why I was considered such a break from the norm.

"Excerpted from THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY by David Levithan, to be published in January 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by David Levithan. All rights reserved."


Excerpted from THE LOVER'S DICTIONARY by David Levithan Copyright © 2011 by David Levithan. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

David Levithan is the author of many acclaimed young-adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn), which was adapted into a popular movie. He is also an editorial director at Scholastic.

Brief Biography

Hoboken, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
Place of Birth:
New Jersey
B.A., Brown University, 1994

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The Lover's Dictionary 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 89 reviews.
Nikkayme More than 1 year ago
I'll let the description speak for itself in explaining the book, but I will say: this is a short read. I finished it in about an hour and like always, David Levithan does not disappoint. The format of The Lover's Dictionary is unlike anything I've ever read before. Short snippets of the lives of a couple are showcased through dictionary definitions. The chosen words play out in each scenario, some funny, some tender, some angry, and some a little heartbreaking. Levithan somehow captures the narrator and made me care for him. He remains nameless, as does the woman in question, but the two of them have this up and down, rollercoaster of a relationship that will get into your heart and make you feel for them. The Lover's Dictionary is not fun or lighthearted; it is real and full of aching and pain, but also the budding curiosity of new love and the hope for a forever. David Levithan is a force to be reckoned with and this book showcases that. Each page brought with it another line of inspiration or a few words that just jumped out and grabbed me. I don't even have a favorite line, I have about ten. Opening line: Aberrant, adj. "I don't normally do this kind of thing," you said. ~ pg. 3 Favorite lines (one of many): You were asleep, and I imagined you older and older. Your hair graying, your skin folded and creased, your breath catching. And I found myself thinking: If this continues, if this goes on, then when I die, your memories of me will be my greatest accomplishment. Your memories will be my most lasting impression. ~ pg. 161
Catherine Poling More than 1 year ago
my vocabulary certainly grew as i read this. i was very glad to be reading on a device with a built in dictionnary. the author clearly captured all of the nuances that make this book so unique. i wanted more though....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So relatable. Reminds us all of the range of emotions and complications in a relationship
PaulGNYC More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked it. I loved the way it told stories through the definitions of different words. This book is one I would definitely recommend reading and it is such an easy read.
LiaBooks More than 1 year ago
This is BEAUTIFUL. I wasn't expecting such an original writing style or the extent to which I would be able to connect with this. Relationships are rocky, even the good ones. There are no lack of perfect and imperfect moments, and I think this is the first time I've ever seen an even remotely good example of every side of a couple's lives together. See my full video review here: https://youtu.be/lF79S-3SH2k
Reading_With_Cupcakes More than 1 year ago
The Lover's Dictionary is definitely one of the more differently formatted books I have ever read. It is written as if it is a dictionary. This makes each page a different word, a different definition, an different piece of the story. The Lover's Dictionary details a relationship. The ups and downs. The ins and outs. Not necessarily in order. It is actually quite brilliant if you ask me. Something I really liked about this is that the relationship could be between two anyones. A male and a female. A female and a female. A male and a male. It doesn't really matter. David Levithan writes it in a way that you just never really know. This is actually something I realized part way into the book. I realized that I just placed genders on the two individuals involved in the love story. I based them off of a passage that I misread. Then, when I went back to that particular passage, I realized that they did not say what I thought. This was actually a quite eye opening moment for me. Oh. And the ending of this story? IT TOTALLY PISSED ME OFF....but it was totally brilliant at the same time. This one is also a super quick read. You will easily have it done in a matter of hours. Find more of my reviews here: http://readingwithcupcakes.blogspot.com/
TheStephanieLoves More than 1 year ago
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! Source: Purchased.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was very sad. It makes you think of all the milestones and hardships in any relationship - even a successful one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When i was completely uninspired it gave me something to think about
Chancie More than 1 year ago
Good little snippets of a story, excellent writing with some great quotes. The timeline makes it a little hard to follow the story, though, but it's a very simple story, so it isn't a big deal.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I don't normally read short books but this has instantly become one of my favorites. I could have read it in a day or shorter but I had to stop frequently because of how raw the emotions were and how familiar it was for me. Great read if you're getting over a break up. 
SleepDreamWrite More than 1 year ago
Interesting is best described for this dictionary style love story. Told through well, dictionary words. The cover I like and just realized after finishing reading this, that we don't know the couple's name. Everything we know, from their personalities, likes, dislikes, etc, but not their names. I kind of like that in a way. So, having read the author's other works that were with Rachel Cohn, Dash and Lily and Nick Norah being my favorites so far, this one I been wanting to read, mostly for the title and the cute cover. Giving me a Love Actually vibe for some reason. It sounded cute in a way. I don't know. Anyway, an interesting, angst ridden love story with moments that you kind of like at the same time but aren't sure the exact word to describe. If that makes sense.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm not one to write reviews but this book is the exception. By Z, I felt like I knew the unnamed characters personally. Anyone in any stage of a relationship can relate to every word. Just what I needed right now. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
thebookwormNJ More than 1 year ago
The Lover's Dictionary is a cute little story told in dictionary format. This is a collection of snippets that all together make up a modern day relationship. This couple has their ups and downs, their highs and lows. Levithan captures their story nicely and I think most couples would be able to relate to some of these entries. I found this one to be a quick read, I read it in bed one morning when I wanted to delve into something light. This is a quirky, charming, sometimes sad little gem of a book that I think would appeal to the hopeless romantics out there. ...Sometimes desire is air; sometimes desire is liquid. And every now and then, when everything else is air and liquid, desire solidifies, and the body is the magnet that draws its weight.... p.18, The Lover's Dictionary, David Levithan Disclaimer: I borrowed my copy of The Lover's Dictionary from the library. This review is my honest opinion.
RebeccaScaglione More than 1 year ago
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan is a love story of a couple told through dictionary entries.   I know this sounds odd, but it totally works.   I enjoyed the story a lot, but I had two issues, which are directly related to each other:   Did the perspectives change from male to female?  Was one person telling the story the whole time?  I got confused with that.  Second, if the male was telling a chunk of the story, well, he's just too wimpy and romantic for my taste.   Honestly, though, the dictionary entries did not take away from the story in the least.  It was such a unique way to showcase an everyday type of relationship, with its ups and downs.  What do you think about reading a book in dictionary definition form?  Thanks for reading, Rebecca @ Love at First Book 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Literary_Marie More than 1 year ago
What are the right words to describe love? In this unique format, David Levithan's character describes his relationship through dictionary entries. In one word: brilliant. In this day and age of 140-character stories and short attention spans, this book told a romance story in our time. Instead of chapters, each page begins with a different word starting with letters A-Z. Each dictionary entry is a snippet of the couple's relationship: from their first kiss to the ups and downs. The story is not necessarily told in chronological order. Heck, the narrator and the couple's names aren't even revealed. But piecing together the story is the joy of it! The format kept me reading and wanting to know more about these anonymous characters and their love life. There were also lots of entries that made me go, hmmm... The Lover's Dictionary is unconventional. It is not your normal lovey-dovey story. It is word play at its finest. There were so many dictionary entries that I loved. I've shared a few throughout this review. Ponder them for just a moment, then dedicate a few hours to read The Lover's Dictionary. Literary Marie of Precision Reviews
Anonymous More than 1 year ago