I distinctly remember saying that while I was intrigued by David Levithan and would read his books in the future, it would be a while before I could because I needed to stop spending money on books when I have a huge ‘to read’ pile. Well, that didn’t last long. All it took was reading that The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan was set up like a dictionary. Alphabetically, one word per page, one slice of a relationship per word. How does this work as a novel? How can it? Where is the beginning, middle, and end? Does it matter? I had to know. I don’t regret the purchase. As a story it was (to quote many accurate reviews) heartfelt. The format was what interested me. I didn’t find it in the least bit confusing (or anymore than any type of romantic relationship is, anyway) and it was refreshing to experience a different sort of novel.
The story itself was that of a relationship. The good, bad, happy, mundane, annoyed, everything. It was snapshots of everything involved in dating someone, living with them, trusting them, and being disappointed by them. I’ve noticed many stories about love and romance have a tendency to focus on the grander story, which makes total sense. When the point of the story is to show how Sally loved Jimmy, then Jimmy cheated, Sally left, became her own person ect. ect. ect. that’s fine. Though it does feel less like the story is about the relationship and more like it’s about Sally, doesn’t it? The Lover’s Dictionary reminds us that sometimes those we love do something as silly as leave the cap of the toothpaste off and it throws us into a rage. We still love them, but we also kind of want to kill them. That’s what’s remembered when people ask about the relationship. The pivotal moments are sometimes big, movie type scenes, that play like a story, but then, sometimes they happen quietly, taking all parties by surprise. I’d say The Lover’s Dictionary is one of the more accurate representations of love I’ve encountered. There are big moments, but the little moments happen so much more often and are only ever remembered by those that lived them.
Think about someone you’re close to for a moment. Think about your relationship with that person. What did you remember? Did you first think about how you met, then flip through every memory with them in order up until the most recent? I’d be a little surprised if that’s the case. We remember people in bits and pieces of events and feelings. If pressed, we can give a timeline, but how’s that fun? The story of a relationship leaps around depending on our mood that day. That’s why I enjoyed the format of The Lover’s Dictionary so much. It is not in order. I read it from A to Z, but I have a suspicion that it’d be just as good and totally ok if I read it out of order. Doesn’t that feel so deviant? Who made these rules that we must read books from beginning to end? When has that rule ever applied to a dictionary? Everything that happens in the relationship still happened regardless the order we read about it in. So break the rules that were set for us by a bunch of dead old dudes. Read the middle first, with this story that might actually start you towards the beginning of the relationship.
This is a great book to pick up and flip through. Only have one minute to read? You can probably read two entries in that time. Have a whole afternoon? Read the whole gosh darn thing. It’s a little book that packs a lot punch. The entries are, for the most part, entirely relatable. Sometimes it almost feels a little too personal. Is David Levithan sharing parts of his own relationship? I imagine he’s drawing from real life experience but I think he’s also done an exceptional job of portraying the truths about relationships. The little bits and bobs that make the whole thing more real.