BTT: Memorable First Lines

Here's this week's question on Booking Through Thursday. And thanks Deb, for using another one of my suggestions. :)

What are your favourite 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?

Many authors try to make a strong first impression for their book with the opening sentence. There are books with great opening sentences that end up disappointing, and some that begin in an ordinary way but are excellent books nonetheless. The opening sentence may not be an accurate indicator of how the rest of the book may be, but it definitely gives us our first impressions of the book.

Moby Dick is the book responsible for getting me interested in the first sentences of books. It had a short yet memorable opening sentence, something that you could always remember. After that I've always kept an eye out for impressive opening sentences and whether or not the book lived up to the standards set by those lines.

Two books I read recently -- The Gunslinger (review) and A Wrinkle in Time -- had memorable opening sentences, and after reading them I decided to post a list of memorable first lines sometime soon, so the timing of this BTT question couldn't be better. Here's a list of 10 of my favourite opening sentences:

  1. "Call me Ishmael!" (Moby Dick, Herman Melville)

    I put this line on top of the list because I started noticing interesting opening sentences after I read this book. Three short words, but words that will always come to my mind whenever I think of memorable first lines.

  2. "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)

    This one is the reason why I added that last part to the question. I didn't like this book all that much, and I never really got around to reading another Austen book after that, but I couldn't ever forget this line.

  3. "At the age of seventeen, working as a delivery boy at Afremov's drugstore in Chicago was the perfect job, because it made it possible for me to steal enough sleeping pills to commit suicide." (The Other Side of Me, (review) Sidney Sheldon)

    Sidney Sheldon is the kind of author who gets you hooked to the story with the very first line. And he saved his best opening line for his autobiography.

  4. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." (The Gunslinger, (review) Stephen King)

    I finished reading The Gunslinger a couple of days ago and I feel I'll always remember the book for this sentence, if only because it describes the entire plot of the book perfectly in 12 short words.

  5. "If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book." (A Series of Unfortunate Events 1 - The Bad Beginning, Daniel Handler)

    That's a clever way to get someone really interested in reading the book. Lemony Snicket keeps warning his readers not to read his books. So far the warnings have failed to discourage me from reading the series.

  6. "Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." (Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J K Rowling)

    Perfectly normal people... that's a great way to start a book about wizards.

  7. "Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt his daughter, who had tried to dishonor her." (The Godfather, Mario Puzo)

    This book has more memorable lines than any other book I've ever read (maybe the Potter books might compete for that spot, but that's because I've read those too many times) and this opening line definitely deserves a place on this list.

  8. "Billions died in less than twenty-four hours." (Autumn, David Moody)

    We're taking billions here, not millions. I'm not sure if I would have been convinced to read the book if I hadn't come across that line first. I ended up liking the book.

  9. "All children, except one, grow up." (Peter and Wendy, J M Barrie)

    I was reminded of this line when I watched the movie Finding Neverland yesterday. I didn't like the book very much when I read it first, but after watching the movie about how the book came into existence, I'm prepared to give the book another chance.

  10. "It was a dark and stormy night." (A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle)

    This line first appeared in Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1830 book, Paul Clifford and has become one of the most famous examples of overly flamboyant prose. Even a Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest was started to recognise the worst extremes of this style. Madleine L'Engle used the same opening line in an allusion to Bulwer-Lytton's novel.


When I made the list I missed one very memorable line. I don't want to leave it out, so I'll type it here and leave it to you to guess which book it is from. It a really easy one, so don't google it before leaving you answer in the comments. Don't cheat, you're not winning any prizes for something this easy. *grin*

"You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings."

I'm already a day late in posting this reply, so I've had the time to go through other replies to this question. The majority feel that the first line isn't all that important; that the rest of the book matters more. Are you among that majority? Or do you believe that the first sentence has an impact on how we remember the book?

Please do leave a comment on what you think of memorable opening sentences and if you have your own blog, use the name/URL option to link to it so that it's easier to visit your blog. :)

9 comments:

Melody said...

Great list! I can see why the opening lines from Pride and Prejudice is so popular! I should've posted it on my reply too!!

I do think opening lines are important. After all, that's the first thing that caught the readers' attention. No? ;)

Aravind said...

Never noticed opening lines and can't recall any from the books I've read. But the lines you have mentioned are all good.

Nithin said...

@melody. Sometimes books that start off well aren't really very good, or the other way around, so we can't decide whether or not a book is good just by the first line. But like you said, it's very important that the author catch our attention right from the first line.

@aravind. Can't say I'm surprised. Lots of people don't remember the exact words and prefer to get the big picture instead.

gautami tripathy said...

I detest Jane Austen!

:D

Here is my BTT post

Nithin said...

@gautami. I don't like her much either. But that opening line is one of the best I've ever read. :)

baileysgranny said...

#10 - That's a great one. You have an impressive list. I wish I could remember the good catchy first lines of books I have read.

KLo said...

I think first lines are vital. You've made excellent points and given great examples : ) I recently wrote a post about the value of last lines, since they never seem to get the same level of attention ... here's the link, if anyone's interested : )

http://philosophyofklo.blogspot.com/2009/05/best-and-worst-last-lines.html

K A Bullard said...

ummm....greatest book ever...greatest first line ever

"In the beginning, God created the heavans and the earth."

Lord Satan said...

^ Epic Fail

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