'The Lover's Dictionary' What We Really Talk About When We Try to Talk About Love

by Jaime Karnes

7 February 2011

To answer the question, What is love? can be daunting if not outright frightening. Is it a singular thing that can be repeated?
cover art

The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel

David Levithan

(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
US: Jan 2011

David Levithan’s new novel, The Lover’s Dictionary is more than a hint of fiction, as it may first seem. Small, gem-like stories told in the form Dictionary definitions, this book has that notable fresh quality that so few new novels’ have. At first, I was skeptical of a book about love, probably for the same reasons Levithan wrote the book. To answer the question: What is love? can be daunting if not outright frightening. Is it a singular thing that can be repeated –is repeated by all people in possession of it –who’ve been in possession of it? The answer is likely no, and Levithan, I think, would agree. The entries, or short-short stories in this collection, showcase the myriad of possibilities of what happens when we try to talk about love. A few of my favorites in no specific order:

Ubiquitous, adj.

When it’s going well, the fact of it is everywhere. It’s there in the song that shuffles into your ears. It’s there in the book you’re reading. It’s there on the shelves of the store as you reach for a towel and forget about the towel. It’s there as you open the door. As you stare off on the subway; it’s what you’re looking at. You wear it on the inside of your hat. It lines your pockets. It’s the temperature.
The hitch, of course, is that when it’s going badly, it’s in all the same places.

Autonomy, n.

“I want my books to have their own shelves,” you said, and that’s how I knew it would be okay to live together.

Libidinous, adj.

I never understood why anyone would have sex on the floor. Until I was with you and I realized: You don’t ever realize you’re on the floor.

Obstinate, adj.

Sometimes it becomes a contest: Which is more stubborn, the love or the two arguing people caught within it?

This, of course, is just a taste (my taste), but this beautiful little volume has something for everyone. There is no way to read it without, at least, some stories piercing your heart. It will remind some of us that we still have a heart, and others: that it may not be as fractured as we thought. Or, perhaps, it will do something more remarkable: make us think about the way we talk about love.

As for the entry entitled Love, n. Levithan writes, “I’m not going to even try.” It may be my least favorite, only because this book is that very definition.

There is humor here, too. And not a fragment is lost. It’s a book to keep close by, as you’ll return to it often. For inspiration, for affirmation, or simply to believe in the moment as we live it. Or to remember that we’re not alone. We’re never alone.

The Lover’s Dictionary: A Novel


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