Opening Lines

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.


{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Betsy Hagen August 2, 2013, 3:51 pm

    Well, it’s not an opening line, but a line from one of the later Tom Clancy novels always makes me laugh every time I come across it…

    “The sun rose promptly at dawn.”

    Um… good to know, that sun is tricky, you never know when it’ll decide to rise. (Isn’t the sun rising, um, you know, what MAKES it dawn?)

  • Spencer Baum August 2, 2013, 5:33 pm

    Ha! Betsy, that is so awesome. I loved Hunt For Red October and Red Storm Rising, but yeah, the later Clancy novels…sheesh, that’s quite a line. In fairness to him, his books are so LONG I can’t even imagine trying to go through them and find all the lines that are groaners.

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