Thursday, March 10, 2011

CBR3-11: The Lover's Dictionary - David Levithan

In his first book for adults, popular young-adult novelist David Levithan creates a beautifully crafted exploration of the insecurities, tenderness, anger, and contented comfort that make romantic relationships so compelling (or devastating). Through sparingly written, alphabetical entries that defy chronology in defining a love affair, The Lover’s Dictionary packs an emotional wallop. For "breathtaking (adj.)," the unnamed narrator explains, "Those moments when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word." For "exacerbate (v.)," he notes, "I believe your exact words were: 'You’re getting too emotional.'" Ranging from over a page to as short as "celibacy (n.), n/a," the definitions-as-storyline alternate between heart-wrenching and humorous--certainly an achievement for a book structured more like Webster’s than a traditional novel. Proving that enduring characters and conflict trump word count, Levithan’s poignant vignettes and emotional candor will remind readers that sometimes in both fiction and life, less is truly more--and the personal details of love can be remarkably universal -

I got to hear David Levithan speak in January at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.  I've heard of his previous books, but have not read any of them. I just happened to be walking by the Macmillian booth on the exhibit hall when David was signing copies of this book.  I thought the concept for this book was interesting and decided to get a signed copy while I had the chance.

As vocab is not one of my strengths, I read about 50 pages of this book without a dictionary next to me and realized that if I was going to "get" the definitions as written by Levithan, I needed to understand the main definition of the word.  The reader is not given any background on the couple featured in the definitions, so it felt like you are reading someone else's diary. It was hard to follow the "happenings" within the couple's relationship because the events weren't chronological due to the alphabetical listing of the words and definitions. I was surprised that some of the definitions overlapped for multiple words. I'm curious how Levithan came up with the words for the entries. 

Here are some of my favorite entries from the book:

blemish, n
The slight acne scars.  The penny-sized, penny-shaped birthmark right above your knee.  The dot below your shoulder that must have been from when you had chicken pox in third grade.  The scratch on your neck - did I do that?
This brief transcript of moments, written on the body, is so deeply satisfying to read.
dissonance, n
Nights when I need to sleep and you can't.  Days when I want to talk and you won't.  Hours when every noise you make interferes with my silence.  Weeks when there is a buzzing in the air, and we both pretend we don't hear it. 
punctuate, v
Cue the imaginary interviewer:
Q: So when all is said and done, what have you learned here?
A: The key to a successful relationship isn't just in the words, it's in the choice of punctuation. When you're in love with someone, a well-placed question mark can be the difference between bliss and disaster, and a deeply respected period or a cleverly inserted ellipsis can prevent all kinds of exclamations. 


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