Monday, September 17, 2012

No matter how many words there are, there will never be enough

I'm apparently on a kick of reading hyped books after the hype has died down and everyone has already read it. On that trend, I finally picked up David Levithan's The Lover's Dictionary.

The format is so original, but I'm sure you've already heard how it's set up like a dictionary, with the story slowing revealing itself through the definitions. You never get the full story. You don't know everything that happened with the rocky relationship within the pages. You don't even know the main character's names (they're referred to only as "I" and "you"). The definitions are in alphabetical order, you know, like a dictionary. Which means the story isn't in chronological order. Because of this, the book is interactive in a way. Sure, you're watching the plot unfold like a typical, albeit unconventional, story, but because of the structure you're trying to fill in the holes. A definition on page 132 calls back to a definition of page 18 that gives that part a whole new meaning. It's a book to read and re-read. Which is easy to do because you can finish this book in about an hour.

The format could easily get  gimmicky, but Levithan keeps that from happening. Maybe because the format fits in with the story. The "I" character is writing out his feelings about the relationship by using definitions, and it feels like he's writing it out for himself. Because of this and the fact that he already knows what's happened, there's no need for the story to focus on what happened when. Instead the focus is on what each word represents for the relationship, whatever the time

I'd gone back and forth on reading this book for awhile. I'd pick up the book, put it back, and then the next time in the store pick it up again. This time I finally decided to read it after reading the first definition. So I figured I'd share some of my favorites

aberrant, adj: "I don't normally do this kind of thing," you said. "Neither do I," I assure you. Later it turned out we had both met people online before, and we had both slept with people on the first dates before, and we had both found ourselves falling too fast before. But we comforted ourselves with what we really meant to say, which was: "I don't normally feel this good about what I'm doing." Measure the hope of that moment, that feeling. Everything else will be measured against it.

avant-garde, adj: This was after Alisa's show, the reverse-blackface rendition of Gone with the Wind, including songs from the Empire Records soundtrack and an interval of nineteenth-century German poetry, recited with a lisp. "What does avant-garde mean, anyway?" I asked. "I believes it translates as favor to your friends," you replied.

ineffable, adj: These words 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.

And here's the review from Kerry at Entomology of a Bookworm that actually got me to want to read it.

Title quote from page 210

Levithan, David. The Lover's Dictionary. Picador, 2011.