I’ve been incredibly lucky to read two extraordinary books in the past few weeks. I followed up According to Hoyle by Abigail Roux with The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan. I’m a big fan of Levithan’s but this book takes his work to a whole new level. It’s exactly what it says it is–a dictionary. There are more than 150 definitions and each of them give a small glimpse into a relationship.
A couple of examples that I absolutely loved:
Buffoonery, n. You were drunk, and I made the mistake of mentioning Showgirls in a near-empty subway car. The pole had no idea what it was about to endure.
Sacrosanct, adj. The nape of your neck. Even the sound of the word nape is holy to me That and the hollow of your neck, the peek of your chest that your shirt sometimes reveals. These are the statins of my quietest, most insistent desire.
The book is full of nuggets like this and not one of them disappoints. Each definition–from “aberrant” to “zenith”–paints a small scene of the relationship. There are no clues if the couple is man/woman, man/man or woman/woman and it doesn’t matter. This stuff is universal. While there is no through plot, there is an amazing story that unfolds across the definitions. There is joy in new found love. There is the stress of wondering if your meeting the other person’s expectations and what their friends will think. There’s a fight, cheating, distrust, absolute romance, delirious love and a lot of caring.
As a writer I’m intrigued by the craft behind this book too. To chose which words to do definitions for and then decide what to write for the definitions is unlike any other plotting task I can imagine. As you can see from the samples, those are short definitions and many of them are that short although some do spill on to two pages. In the hands of the wrong author, this could come off as trite or boring or just bad. Levithan makes this work soar.
I can’t recommend this enough.
And now I’m not sure what to read next because I really want to keep this winning streak of superb books going.