Summer is upon us and seems to be when people do most of their reading. That is the only reason I can think of that I am writing this post instead of commenting about all the major goings-on in the world…Well, that and the fact I recently learned that It is being made into a movie, which reminded me that I have always wanted to write about opening lines.
I read all types of books and place a great deal of importance on a book’s first sentence. I want it to hook me, draw me in, and intrigue me so that I feel I must read the whole thing and see what happens.
When I am on the fence about whether to plunk my money down, all I do to make up my mind is read that opening line. It is all that stands between the publisher/author and their revenue/royalty. Since first impressions are known to be very important, if an author fails to make an impact with his first sentence, how can I trust him to make the rest of the book interesting?
Obviously, this tactic is far from perfect. Some books with humdrum openings prove to be great reads, while some with intriguing openings prove to be humdrum. And it is very subjective. For generations people have swooned over Dickens’s opening to A Tale of Two Cities (“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” ad nauseam) but I think it is cumbersome and dull and states something obvious rather than something insightful.
Now I will get off of my soapbox. If, after reading this, you want to take my place on it and tell me there are better selections than those I am about to list, please do so because that is what makes things fun. But here, in alphabetical order by author, are what I consider the ten best opening lines I have ever read:
“It was a pleasure to burn.” (Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, 1953)
“Not long after I moved with my family to a small town in
I happened upon a path that vanished into a wood on the edge of town.” (A Walk
in the Woods, Bill Bryson, 1998)
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” (Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, 1938)
“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” (Tracks, Louise Erdrich, 1988)
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless
Detroit day in January of 1960; and
then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near ,
in August of 1974.” (Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides, 2002) Petoskey, Michigan
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” (The Gunslinger, Stephen King, 1978)
“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years -- if it ever did end -- began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” (It, Stephen King, 1986)
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.” (The Road, Cormac McCarthy, 2006)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” (1984, George Orwell, 1949)
“In my first memory, I am three years old and I am trying to kill my sister.” (My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult, 2004)