Saturday, July 26, 2008

Booking Through Thursday

What are your favorite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

First lines alone usually aren't enough to make me dive headfirst into a book, although they can certainly pique my interest. I tend to be in it for the long haul, and the characterization and development of the story mean more to me than the first line. What memorable first lines can do for me is recall cherished memories of reading a favorite book, of a favorite character, even of a particular period of my life. More than anything else, this question reminds me of my teenaged years when I wrote to penpals from around the world-- an activity that required paper, pen, envelope and stamp. One of my penpals lived in the UK, and we shared a love of books. We had a running contest. In each of our letters, we'd have at least five first lines from our favorite books. The recipient (without the aid of Google) had to see if she knew the title and author. This went on for months and was so much fun.

Which favorite first lines can I recall now? Let me see….

  1. As far as I’m concerned, Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities contains the best first and last lines of any book I’ve ever read: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….It is a far, far better thing that I do….
  2. I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. (Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen)
  3. On the third day of their honeymoon, infamous environmental activist Stewie Woods and his new bride, Annabel Bellotti, were spiking trees in the forest when a cow exploded and blew them up. (Savage Run, C.J. Box)
  4. Call me Ishmael. (Moby-Dick, Herman Melville)
  5. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen)
  6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. (Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy)
  7. Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. (Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston)
  8. It was a pleasure to burn. (Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury)
  9. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. (The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley)
  10. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. (Scaramouche, Raphael Sabatini)
  11. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. (Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier)
  12. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect. (Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka)

For the past couple of years, I have been including the first line in each of my book reviews. What I've found interesting is to go back through my book journal at a later date and read those first lines to see how much of each book I can remember from them.


  1. What a fun little game you and your pen pal shared! I would probably be terrible at it. :-)

  2. I know what you mean! I've gotten quite lazy--Google has turned into my best friend in situations like that. The game certainly kept us hopping, and in a way it turned out to be a form of recommendation long before LT's.


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