The Lover's Dictionary A Novel

David Levithan




Trade Paperback

224 Pages



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basis, n.

There has to be a moment at the beginning when you wonder whether you're in love with the person or in love with the feeling of love itself.

If the moment doesn't pass, that's it—you're done. And if the moment does pass, it never goes that far. It stands in the distance, ready for whenever you want it back. Sometimes it's even there when you thought you were searching for something else, like an escape route, or your lover's face.

How does one talk about love? Do we even have the right words to describe something that can be both utterly mundane and completely transcendent, pulling us out of our everyday lives and making us feel a part of something greater than ourselves? Taking a unique approach to this problem, the nameless narrator of David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary has constructed the story of his relationship as a dictionary. Through these short entries, he provides an intimate window into the great events and quotidian trifles of being within a couple, giving us an indelible and deeply moving portrait of love in our time.


Praise for The Lover's Dictionary

"Levithan brings ingenuity and a wry edge to his first adult novel . . . Among the novel's pleasures are micro-stories that speak volumes, reminiscent of Lydia Davis' work . . . There's plenty of reflection, not just on the relationship but on the attempt to distill and describe such complex feeling, including this: ‘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.' That, by the way, is Levithan's definition of ineffable."—Heller McAlpin,

"David Levithan makes every word count . . . Levithan gives readers the kind of love story that Billy Pilgrim in ‘Slaughterhouse-Five' would have appreciated: unstuck in time, reliving moments in unpredictable order and in varying emotional colors . . . an equal opportunity romance with wit and rue, kisses and tears, that anyone can enjoy . . . Levithan makes every word count."—Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Levithan crafts a love affair as sharp, funny, and sad as any you'd find in an epic novel . . . The Lover's Dictionary isn't about how lessons were learned, and in what order—it's a documentation of facts, memories, war wounds. And anyone who has been in a romantic relationship will recognize themselves in Levithan's lovers, from the tiniest details of merging bookshelves and quiet afternoons to the largest anxieties of sexual inadequacy and romantic reciprocity. Levithan's rhapsody is just that: an ode to desire written as an account of the traces such desire leaves behind."—Jessica Freeman-Slade,

"A charming, short novel about a love affair and its bittersweet evolution, from first flirt to shaky domesticity, for lovers of all gender persuasions."—Alan Cheuse, San Francisco Chronicle

"Remarkable . . . Levithan does the dictionary a great deal of justice, showing that the right words really can say it all, and doing it with an effortless grace."—The New Yorker

"A clever distillation of a love story."—The New York Times

"David Levithan pushes the boundaries of the language of love."—NPR's All Things Considered

"Admirably evocative of the pleasures and anguish of love A charming, slim volume that feels much fuller than its 209 pages."—The Boston Phoenix

"Effective . . . Levithan makes the personal work universally personal work and vice versa."—The Austin Chronicle

"A refreshingly grown-up story of a love affair between adults . . . Like all the good love stories, this one is both unique and universal: It's impossible not to nod along in recognition . . . Levithan is a generous, warm-hearted writer, and his conceit feels original, a brave way of articulating the fictions we create for ourselves in relationships. It also allows for a nice slant on the absurdity of it all."—The Guardian (London)

"The Lover's Dictionary is an addictive and wildly fun read. Its shocking honesty gives you a thrill usually reserved for hacking into someone else's e-mail. Levithan's entries reveal how brilliant and stupid we all are when it comes to the relationship game. And, perhaps most important, Levithan's book captures the wondrous truth that every word in the dictionary is a synonym for love."—Heather O'Neill, author of Lullabies for Little Criminals

"A charming, compulsively readable, and fittingly fractured tour through the uncertainties of modern love."—Laura Kipnis, author of How to Become a Scandal: Adventures in Bad Behavior

"This isn't a dictionary: It is a portrait of first love painted with such fidelity that encountering it feels at once familiar and revelatory, two qualities essential to good books and first loves alike."—Myla Goldberg, author of Bee Season

"Interestingly, each definition is told from the point of view and in the first-person voice of only one of the partners. The other partner's voice remains silent throughout except as quoted by the narrator. Nevertheless, both come wonderfully alive, emerging as complex, multidimensional human beings, happy and unhappy, ebullient and angry, sweet and sour, and so—delightfully—forth. Happily, the order of the alphabet does not dictate the order of the story, which moves backward and forward in time. Thus, the dramatic necessity of conflict arises from one partner's infidelity, the impact of which is then explored at various points in the history of the partnership. Nothing is cut-and-dried, however, for as Levithan demonstrates, intimacy is sometimes enigmatic and, as he notes under ineffable, 'No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough.' So you must clearly pick and choose which to use, an act that Levithan has accomplished artfully and satisfyingly."—Booklist (starred review)

"Levithan attains some heartbreaking moments as well as pitches of hilarity with his concise, polished writing. Inherent in such an endeavor is an adorableness thankfully grounded by Levithan's wit."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt


I, n.

Me without anyone else.

idea, n.

"I'm quitting," you say. "I can't believe how wasted I was.

This time, I'm really going to do it."


Read the full excerpt



  • The Lover's Dictionary: A Love Story Told Alphabetically

    Among the novel's pleasures are micro-stories that speak volumes, reminiscent of Lydia Davis — Heller McAlpin,



  • David Levithan

  • David Levithan is the author of many acclaimed young-adult novels, including the New York Times bestselling Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (with Rachel Cohn), which was adapted into a popular movie. He is also an editorial director at Scholastic.

  • David Levithan © Jake Hamilton
    David Levithan