Kate (kate_nepveu) wrote,

100 Best First Lines (2/3)

Continued from last post.

The List, Part 2 of 3, with comments:

34. In a sense, I am Jacob Horner. —John Barth, The End of the Road (1958)

* And in a sense you're not? Enh.

35. It was like so, but wasn't. —Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2 (1995)

* It was like so what? (I'm sorry, I'm not getting past this.)

36. —Money . . . in a voice that rustled. —William Gaddis, J R (1975)

* You're apparently using a dash to indicate dialogue. This is annoying. And do you literally mean "rustled"?

37. Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. —Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

* Good for her. Book rather than sentence again, I think.

38. All this happened, more or less. —Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five (1969)

* Everyone's favorite, the unreliable narrator. Not sure it's unique or memorable enough to be on the list on its own merits, though.

39. They shoot the white girl first. —Toni Morrison, Paradise (1998)

* Well, that's starting in medias res. I don't know if I want to read it or it's a good enough sentence to be on this list, but it get the attention.

40. For a long time, I went to bed early. —Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913; trans. Lydia Davis)

* Umm, that's nice for you?

41. The moment one learns English, complications set in. —Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)

* I wonder, learns as a first or second language? Probably second. I don't know anything about this, but it has raised a question for me, so I guess that's a plus for it.

42. Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. —Anita Brookner, The Debut (1981)

* For some reason this reminds me of Byatt, possibly "The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye." Completely other than that, I like it; I have some ideas where it might be going, but I don't know if they're right, and I would want to find out.

43. I was the shadow of the waxwing slain / By the false azure in the windowpane; —Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire (1962)

* I haven't got the foggiest idea what this means, and I find it rather off-putting.

44. Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. —Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)

* This I like. It's interesting as a sentence as well as a hook.

45. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. —Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

* I also like this, though I have the vague impression that I would dislike the book. (I should tally up how many of these are self-referential.)

46. Ages ago, Alex, Allen and Alva arrived at Antibes, and Alva allowing all, allowing anyone, against Alex's admonition, against Allen's angry assertion: another African amusement . . . anyhow, as all argued, an awesome African army assembled and arduously advanced against an African anthill, assiduously annihilating ant after ant, and afterward, Alex astonishingly accuses Albert as also accepting Africa's antipodal ant annexation.  —Walter Abish, Alphabetical Africa (1974)

* <Grandfather in Princess Bride> Yes, you're very smart, now shut up. </Grandfather>

47. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. —C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

* It would never have occured to me to put this on here, but it really does work.

48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. —Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

* I don't find this interesting in the least.

49. It was the day my grandmother exploded. —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

* Well, it's catchy, but is it overly cutesy?

50. 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 Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)

* (Wow, the juxtaposition . . . ahem.) My first reaction: gender reassignment, but in an emergency room? My interest is piqued, at least, but I worry about the weirdness quotient.

51. Elmer Gantry was drunk. —Sinclair Lewis, Elmer Gantry (1927)

* Good for him. What is with the "(noun) was (state)" lines here?

52. We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall. —Louise Erdrich, Tracks (1988)

* Another cheery book. I think of snowfall as a quiet thing, which is an interesting and unexpected image if it's meant.

53. It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)

* To burn what? (Yes, I read this, so I know what, but still.)

54. A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. —Graham Greene, The End of the Affair (1951)

* More self-referentiality. I find myself wanting to argue with it, and yet I'm not even sure I disagree.

55. Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes' chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. —Flann O'Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)

* Um, yeah, you're very full of yourself, aren't you? Pass.

56. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call'd me. —Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe (1719)

* This is not very interesting as a sentence, it seems to me.

57. In the beginning, sometimes I left messages in the street. —David Markson, Wittgenstein's Mistress (1988)

* Good hook. Never heard of it.

58. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. —George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

* Not a plot hook but a character hook. Of course if it's not about Miss Brooke then we may have a problem, or if she's not more than beautiful and poorly-dressed.

59. It was love at first sight. —Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

* I presume the next sentence is something more interesting? Because this isn't.

60. What if this young woman, who writes such bad poems, in competition with her husband, whose poems are equally bad, should stretch her remarkably long and well-made legs out before you, so that her skirt slips up to the tops of her stockings? —Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things (1971)

* What if I wrote a sentence, that had too many commas, and was in the second person besides, so that it sounded particularly pretentious?

61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. —W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)

* No, really, I should make that self-referentiality list. Mild hook, though.

62. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. —Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)

* I suspect this is mainstream and I would like it better if it were sf. But it's a good line.

63. The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. —G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill (1904)

* Does he have a lot of readers who are dogs, or aliens? I have the feeling that the narrator is excluding me from the category of adults, which may be paranoid and unjustified but all the same doesn't give me a lot of reason to keep reading.

64. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. —F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

* Hmm. "What advice" is a decent hook, and not artificial since it wouldn't fit well in one sentence, and yet somehow it doesn't ring for me.

65. You better not never tell nobody but God. —Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

* I don't want to be a snob, but this is making me work too hard.

66. "To be born again," sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, "first you have to die." —Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses (1988)

* An arresting image, and conveys singing through its rhythm too, at least to me.

Tags: 100 first lines, books

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  • JS&MN series overview

    At Tor.com. Includes spoiler-free "is it worth watching" section. link

  • JS&MN ep 7, "Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell"

    Fun fact: according to the writer of the show, who was interviewed for the same podcast I was, the BBC offered the show up to 8 episodes. They chose…

  • JS&MN ep 6, "The Black Tower"

    I am under the weather so this will be even less coherent than usual. Really. Stephen needs to be shown the wisdom of resisting the gentleman by a…