Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Lover's Dictionary - a review

The Lover's Dictionary
David Levithan
224 pages
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Note: This post contains a lot of curse words.

I hate concept books. I hate books that seem to have a gimmick to them like this one. I hated, hated the idea behind this novel: a relationship told through the format of a dictionary. Concept books are hit-and-miss for me. The author either screws it up really bad because it's a really bad idea, or the author pulls it off and makes me question how the fuck they did it.

David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary falls into the latter part of the category. How the fuck did he pull this off? Why is this so good? It's so short, most pages are just one line, and neither character is ever given a name but all the emotion of a full blown 600 page novel is here. So how the fuck did he do it?

I had to go back to English class in high school in my head to completely understand what I had just experienced. I was trying to remember a very short story from a genre called flash fiction. My teacher attributed the brilliant little snippet to Ernest Hemingway.* The entire story is "For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn."

That story was a kick to the gut the first time I read it. You don't have to have a character name to experience what that person must have been through. It's just six words. Six very powerful words.

The Lover's Dictionary is flash fiction told over and over again. It's little snippets of a relationship told out of order. We see the beginning, the ending, and the middle. We see the sex, the romance, the first kiss, etc. All of them told in a flash and all of them receiving a different kind of response from the reader: happiness, sadness, empathy, etc.

There's an episode of the show How I Met Your Mother where a character named Ted puts on red cowboy boots and proclaims "I can totally wear these!" And everyone tell hims "No. You can't pull those off. Sorry." It's not until Ted gets to the West Village in New York City that he's told "You're totally pulling those off." The Lover's Dictionary totally pulls off the fucking dictionary concept. It's going to live on my nightstand for a while.

Full Disclosure: I purchased this from Amazon.
*I can't find any sources that say for certain that this is Hemingway's work. If anyone could provide me with a credible reference I would appreciate it.
Update: Snopes shows that the story cannot be attributed to Ernest Hemingway.

21 comments:

  1. BOOM. There it is, one of my favorite books ever. The nightstand is the perfect place for it. So you can read it over and over or parts of it randomly. I think I've read it four times entirely this year so far and picked it up and randomly read out of it countless times.

    I'm glad you liked it. I was kinda scared up there in the beginning a little bit.

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    1. It was surprisingly good.I'm glad I took a chance on it.

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  2. I have to be honest and say that I wasn't sure about this book (although I loved Dash and Lily which made me think how good of a writer David is). I ended up buying it as it was cheap LOL. I'm glad you liked it, I'll give it a go.

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    1. Now that I think aboit it.. I still like Dash and Lily better. But it's a different kind of like.

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  3. YES! SO happy you liked it!! I have so much love for this book because, like you mentioned, of the impact it delivers. I have a lot of entries tabbed, and when I had it signed by David, I was like, "These were all my favorites." He was like, "whoa", lol, because it's pretty much all of the book.

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    1. I dog earned so many pages on my first read through that I just gave up. There are just so many little gems in it.

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  4. My reaction to concept books is usually "that's cute" (spoken in a completely monotone voice) but I loved this one too. It totally snuck up on me. --Noelle

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    1. "That's cute" came across in a Maria voice for me.

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  5. I bought this book a few weeks ago, and I can't wait to read it. Even more so, after your review. Absolutely love love your thoughts.

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    1. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

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  6. I haven't heard of this until now but I think I will go add it to my tbr list.

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    1. I can't compare it to his other books. I really can't. If you haven't read Dash & Lily I'd recommend that over this. This really shows his creative side, but the man makes really good characters as well.

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  7. I've seen this book around but never thought to actually read it! After reading your review, I put a request for it in my library. I agree about the Ernest Hemingway short story, it's succinct and really powerful. There are even books with six word short stories like Not Quite What I Was Planning, they're really interesting! I actually never questioned the fact the story is attributed to Ernest Hemingway and it's kind of blowing my mind there's no source for it. Huh! Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your review and I'm excited to see how this book pans out for me.

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    1. That book is almost like PostSecret but without the images. It's interesting so I'll have to check it out.

      I never questioned it either. I Googled it to make sure I got the wording right and there was a Snopes article on how it can't be tied to Hemingway. It was interesting. Here's the article if you'd like to read it:

      http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/babyshoes.asp

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  8. ADAM. I think the concept of the book was brilliant, but I wouldn't re-read this book again. I didn't enjoy it. It was such a downer to me and I felt so depressed when I finished. Obviously I'm in the minority with these feelings, though. ^^See above comments.

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    1. I can see how it's a downer. My favorite parts that I dog earred were the better parts of the relationship. You might be in the minority but I get where you're coming from.

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  9. How did he pull it off, you ask? Please he's David Freaking Levithan. Duh. :) -S

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