JUNE BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION: “The Lover’s Dictionary”

This month our Literally, Darling book club pick was suggested by one of our readers. I’ll be honest, when I saw someone suggest “The Lover’s Dictionary” by David Levithan I knew it was going to be our pick! It’s been on my list of books to buy and read for months and I knew this would make me actually get to it. I’ve never read much David Levithan, who before this has been a primarily young adult author, but I was excited to read this book because of Levithan’s Twitter account that teased excerpts from the book. I fell in love with that Twitter, I could spend all day retweeting those beautiful definitions.

“Dictionary” is filled with 200-plus definitions that tell the story of someone falling in love and trying to navigate infidelity. I read this book quickly and found myself thinking about certain definitions. I tended to prefer the definitions that spoke to general relationships rather than specific to the characters relationship. The story and characters are good and well-written, but some of the entries will need context.

To me, it seems that most stories are about love, whether it’s the main plot point or just a side bar to a bigger story. Sometimes it’s a story about a lack of love and sometimes it’s about discovering a different type of love, but in this story it’s about forgiveness. Our narrator remains nameless, as does his partner, but the problems they face are relatable and genuine. Love is something we see, think about, or feel every day, and even when we are hating someone we’re experiencing the opposite of love.

What I liked most about “Dictionary” was that Levithan didn’t use everyday words. I mean, he didn’t look up words that no one would know, but he used words that the general population knows, but doesn’t use in an everyday context. I liked the way he took a word I knew and gave it new meaning, and when it came to defining the word “Love” he says, “I’m not even going to try.”

One of my favorite definitions was for deadlock.

Just when it would seem like we were at a complete standstill, the tiebreakers would save us. If Emily’s birthday party and Evan’s birthday party were on the same night, we’d go to the movies instead of having to choose. If I wanted Mexican and you wanted Italian, we’d take it as a sign to go for Thai. If I wanted to get back to New York and you wanted to spend another night in Boston, we’d find a bed-and-breakfast somewhere in between. Even if neither of us got what we wanted, we found freedom in the third choices.

While the circumstances weren’t the same as any I’ve experience I still found them relatable and interesting. Some I thought I might use to replace the actual definitions and find excuses to use them daily. “doldrums, n. the proper verb for depression is ‘sink.'” I read that and became convinced it wasn’t just the verb, but an adjective and all encompassing feeling in depression. The story is different than mine, but some definitions hold some universal truths. “flux, n. The natural state. Our moods change. Our lives change. Our feelings for each other change. Our bearings change. The song changes. The air changes. The temperature of the shower changes. Accept this. We must accept this.”

Overall, I found the story of the two people almost irrelevant. They weren’t needed to tell their story because it’s happened to so many people over the years. In fact normally I would be outraged at a narrator with no name and characters without solid backstories, but I found it a breath of fresh air, a quick read that left me understanding other people and our universal need for love. It is definitely a worthy subject to try attempting this unique book format with a equally unique story.

I could quote definition after definition and page after page, but I’ll leave you with one last one.

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.

What were your thoughts on our book club pick? Tweet us @litdarling!

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