Saturday, May 16, 2009

Memorable First Lines


First of all, apologies for being silent for nearly two weeks.  I was traveling, then finishing final papers, then packing, visiting friends, entertaining visiting family, more packing, graduating, packing and then driving 998 miles.  I am now back in Texas and beginning the job hunt in earnest.  And will resume my blogging routine.

I was reading my new Real Simple magazine last night and stumbled upon a great article about summer reads.  Then on the next page there was a list of "four fabulous first lines".  And it got me thinking about my favorite first lines of books.  There is of course the classic, "Call me Ishmael", but truth be known, I've never read Moby Dick.  

So here are some first lines from books I've actually read and enjoyed. 

For the first, I must give credit to my best friend, Katie, who introduced me to the book, the author, the movie, the house (Jane Austen's house, pictured above...that's a story for another post), and, well, her obsession.  And she was the one who pointed out the fabulousness of the opening line of Austen's Pride and Prejudice
"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune,    must be in want of a wife."

Then there's Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men:

"To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good  
  highway and new."

Also, Catch-22's first two lines--I could stop at just one:

"It was love at first sight.  The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love  
  with him."

And finally, I love the first line of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

Now for some of these, it's not necessarily that the line itself is particularly fantastic, but it's the way the opening line or paragraph draws you into the story.  In the case of TKAM, Scout describes an event in her brother's life that is not all that uncommon in a child's life.  Kids break bones sometimes.  But the circumstances surrounding Jem's broken limb are most uncommon and the culmination of several years of both childhood and very real adult drama.  And yet, Harper Lee uses this part of the story to introduce us to the events leading up to it.  I think it also helps to establish for the reader that the story is told through the memories of a child who experienced the events.  It makes sense that the broken arm left the most lasting impression for Jem and his sister. 

Do you have any favorite first lines?  Do you read the first line/paragraph/page before deciding to buy/read a book?  Do you ever go back and reread the first line after you've finished a novel?  Sometimes it has much greater meaning that you originally realized.  

2 comments:

parallel-botany said...

One of my favorites is from One Hundred Years of Solitude:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Auendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

I'm sure there are others I could recall with some effort, that's always the one I think of first.

Karen said...

I love the opening line of Don Quixote because it has the rhythm of the rest of the story.

BTW, these are always good for a laugh: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ (the contest for the worst first lines of novels).