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.
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2011: 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. --Jessica Schein
Amazon Exclusive: A Q&A with David Levithan
Q: What inspired you to write The Lover’s Dictionary?
Levithan: Every year for the past 23 years, I’ve written a story for my friends for Valentine’s Day. It started when I was a junior in high school and remarkably bored in my physics class--I decided to go through the physics book and find all the romantic references I could (opposites attracting, magnetism, etc), and turn it into a love story. My friends liked it, and the next year, they demanded a new story for Valentine’s Day. A tradition (or, at least, a deadline) was born.
Two years ago, I hit February 1st and I hadn’t started writing my Valentine’s Day story. I had a few ideas, but none were kicking in. I sat down at my desk to thing something up, and right by an elbow was a book I’d recently recovered from my parents’ basement--a book of “words you need to know” that I’d been given as a gift (probably for my high school graduation). I thought it might be interesting to take random words from that book, in alphabetical order, and tell the story of a relationship through those words, in dictionary form. I didn’t plan any of it out--I let the words tell the story. And two weeks later, I had the story version of The Lover’s Dictionary.
Q: How (if at all) was the experience of writing what is classified as an adult novel different from writing a young adult novel? Did you approach the emotion of love differently?
Levithan: I didn’t approach this book any differently from my other books. Because, really, the emotions don’t change. Perspective changes (a little, sometimes not even a little), but the emotions are still there. Yes, the twenty-something characters in The Lover’s Dictionary are facing some issues most teens don’t face--moving in together, paying rent. But most of what they’re feeling is merely a continuation of the emotions that come to the fore when you’re a teenager--wanting to belong, wanting to understand yourself, wanting to understand the person you love, wanting to know what love is. I’d love to say that when we become adults we stop being insecure, that we have answers, that we know the right words for the right moments. But that’s simply not true.
Q: Were there any words/definitions that didn’t make it in to the final book?
Levithan: Not that many. I just went back to the first draft and found one:
haggle, v. There was no way I was letting the Atlanta Braves lamp to our apartment, and you said, fine, then my lunchbox collection could go back to my parents’ basement, where it belonged.
I’m not even sure why it didn’t make the cut. Maybe there were already too many entries about decorating the apartment.
Q: The Lover’s Dictionary isn’t a linear story and is organized alphabetically, much like a traditional reference dictionary. How (if at all) did you change your writing process knowing that it would unfold this way?
Levithan: I loved writing in a nonlinear way. Because it feels to me like a more accurate way of how we recount relationships. They never come back to us as a narrative, told beginning-middle-end. Whether it’s over or ongoing, we remember it in flashes. Different moments from the past hit us at different moments in the present. So when the narrator sits down to recount the relationship to the lover, it makes sense to me that the relationship would appear to him in this way, with the words as the catalyst for the memories, and the memories adding up to the truth.
Q: Why did you decide to write the novel in first person, directed at a second person?
Levithan: The act of writing the book (for the narrator) is as much a part of the story as the story itself. I don’t want to explain the book too much, so I can leave it at that. And I wanted it to play like a love song you hear on the radio--the most effective love songs are somehow both specific and universal. You feel you are hearing someone else’s story, but at the same time you relate to it so much that their story doesn’t preclude your story. I wanted The Lover’s Dictionary to be like that.
Q: Describe how you feel about writing in three words.
Levithan: Wonderment. Curiosity. Random.About 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.
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