The Atlantic just did a piece where notable authors gave their favorite first lines from books and explained why.
The most famous first line in literature (Call me Ishmael) shows up twice on the list. Other famous first lines, like the notable openings of Tale of Two Cities and Pride & Prejudice, weren’t cited.
However, when The Telegraph did a similar piece years ago, some of the more classic openings where there. Here are a few:
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813)
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Leo Tolstoy: Anna Karenina (1878)
“All children, except one, grow up.”
J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan (1911)
Of the famous opening lines, my favorite is from The Stranger by Camus
“Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure.”
Of course, it turns out that the correct translation of this opening line from the French is frequently called into question.
From more modern books, an opening line that stands out to me is from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
“The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it; something terrible was going to happen.”
That opening line kicks off an intense scene where the reader goes deep into the consciousness of a narrator who is rapidly losing control of his mind and body to Parkinson’s. Man, just copying that line in here makes me want to go read that book again right now.
Do you have a favorite opening line of a novel? Stick it in the comments.