Before we get to this week’s You Tell Me, I have a request, nay, a plea. Please please please don’t forget about the blog archives — they are down on the right side of the page, just itching to be clicked on. The older posts get lonely and they need friends, and then they start getting depressed and they turn to the drinking, and pretty soon I have a bunch of drunken old blog posts blathering about how people have forgotten all about them and confuse them with old Miss Snark posts and that gets them to fighting and I really don’t need a riot on my hands. (Those of you wondering about how to query trilogies and series, please visit this post from July). Thanks for your understanding. They’re crazy, I know.
So for this week’s You Tell Me, I’ve been wondering: What is your favorite first line in a novel? And why did it hook you?
I’d have to go with the old standby: “Call me Ishmael.” So simple, so awesome. Also because MOBY DICK happens to be my favorite novel.
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I’ve always liked the first line of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini, though I never read the book (and I hope I am remembering it correctly):
“He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”
Stephanie Zvan says
My current favorite opening is:
The red leather chair was four feet away from the end of Nero Wolfe’s desk, so when she got the gun from her handbag she had to get up and take a step to put it on the desk. Then she returned to the chair, closed the bag, and told Wolfe, “That’s the gun I’m not going to shoot my husband with.”
Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut: “This is the tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”
True to Vonnegut form, he says so much yet he does it so simply. Sets a great pace for the rest of the book, which is equally great!
“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
Neuromancer, William Gibson.
It’s a great first line, but the novel – not as good.
Zen of Writing says
Three favorites already listed:
Tale of Two Cities
Pride and Prejudice
Also — “In the Oakland Greyhound, all the people were dwarfs, and they pushed and shoved to get on the bus, even cutting in ahead of the two nuns, who were there first.” Denis Johnson, Angels.
Bryan D. Catherman says
“My name is Asher Lev, the Asher Lev, about whom you have read in the newspapers and magazines, about whom you talk so much at your dinner affairs and cocktail parties, the notorious and legendary Lev of the Brooklyn Crucifixion.”
From Chaim Potok’s, MY NAME IS ASHER LEV
Miles Aller says
“Who is John Galt?” ~ Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
and of course
Mother died today. ~ The Stranger (Albert camus)
NM Smith says
“My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.”–Great Expectations
I’m surprised no one else picked this one, which is my favorite:
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
For me, it was the “thank you very much” that made the sentence. So British.
For those who haven’t read the book, it’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (the U.S. version), by J.K. Rowling.
Who wrote that “Nuns go by as quiet as lust” line? That was really great.
“A great grey storm swept its pelting rain up the pastures of Duncton Hill and then on into the depths of the oaks and beeches of Ducton wood itself.”
Duncton Wood by William Horwood.
One of my favorite books in my tween years. I’d never thought much about storms until this point.
I see a lot of my favorites..recently, one first line stuck in my mind, so I pulled it out. I remember reading it over twice, always the mark of a great first line. I like to read my kids’ required reading along with them, so from The Scarlet Letter: (it’s a long one!)
“A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments, and gray,steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded
with iron spikes.
As an artist, this line is very satisfying!
Are we allowed to go twice? This is fun!
Two I know from MEMORY so I must love them right?
“Harriet was trying to explain to Sport how to play Town”
Because playing Town and Harriet sparked my imagination and made me know I loved to tell stories.
“The star bellied sneetches had bellies with stars and the plain belly sneetches had none upon thars”.
Because it’s the best Dr. Suess story ever and what’s not to love about that sentence!
Jonathan Janz says
Crystal took mine (Bradbury), but here’s one from a short story by Ramsey Campbell:
“Last night I put ground glass in my wife’s eyes.”
Terrible, but unforgettable.
Favorite first line from Laura Jensen Walker’s Reconstructing Natalie:
I’m obsessed with breasts.
I busted out laughing in a room full of people. It continued on:
Not in the lesbian sense. I’m a card-carrying heterosexual with a serious crush on Johnny Depp.
I just had to read the book. Anything that opens with a line like that is practically begging you to keep turning the pages. LOL!
“There are times, when the drugs are flowing and the emotions are running high, the lights and music can make you dizzy-and the world slips out of control.”
How could you not be interested in that first line…let alone the fact that the title of the book is ‘Disco Bloodbath-A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland,’ written so honestly its almost scary, by James St. James.
Peggy R. says
Today at dinner members of my family were talking about our favorite first lines from novels, and my daughter, an avid fan of this blog, said I should see if there was a discussion on it — and sure enough, here it is! So I add to this discussion (3 years too late) this offering, from "100 Years of Solitude": "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
I just don't see how anyone will ever top that!