Welcome to SCRAWL SPACE, Greg’s blog. Here he waxes eloquent on all things relating to writing and the writing life. In other words, it’s where he loves to waste his time and that of his readers. He’s very happy you’ve stopped by. You, too, Dad.
I never judge a book by its cover. I judge it by its first line, or lines. If I’m not blown away or at least utterly intrigued by the end of the opening paragraph, I’m gone.
Call it impatience. Call it ADD. I’m sorry, but life’s too short and my reading list too long for me to spend more than half a minute on a tale that doesn’t grab me by the goodies from the get-go.
I know, I know, there’s such a thing as foreplay. Just not in fiction. Not for me. Not when it comes to Chapter One, anyway.
I get that I’m probably missing out on some worthwhile reads due to my demands for immediate literary gratification. That’s fine by me. I have to draw the line somewhere to ensure I have time to write, time for friends and family, and time to binge-watch Breaking Bad over and over.
So what does it take for me to move past page one of a book? I’ll show you. Following are what I consider to be 25 of the best opening lines in literature, in no particular order:
1) “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” –1984 by George Orwell
2) “Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.” –The Stranger by Albert Camus
3) “It was a pleasure to burn.” –Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
4) “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” –Murphy by Samuel Beckett
5) “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” –One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez,
6) “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” –Neuromancer by William Gibson
7) “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” –The Crow Road by Iain M. Banks
8) “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.” –The Luck of the Bodkins by PG Wodehouse
9) “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” –The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
10) “Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die.” –Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
11) “I am living at the Villa Gorghese. There is not a crumb of dirt anywhere, nor a chair misplaced. We are all alone here and we are dead.” –Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller
12) “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” –Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
13) “I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn…” –The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
14) “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
15) “I had been making the rounds of the Sacrifice Poles the day we heard my brother had escaped. I already knew something was going to happen; the Factory told me.” –The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
16) “I am a sick man… I am a wicked man. An unattractive man. I think my liver hurts.” –Notes From Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky
17) “He – for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it – was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” –Orlando by Virginia Woolf
18) “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” –Beloved by Toni Morrison
19) “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.” –Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
20) “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” –Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
21) “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” –Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
22) “Like most people, I didn’t meet and talk to Rant Casey until after he was dead.” –Rant by Chuck Palahniuk
23) “On a very cold and lonely Friday last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.” –The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
24) “None of the merry-go-rounds seem to work anymore.” –True Confessions by John Gregory Dunne
25) “Once upon a time, in a far off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.” –An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
26 – Bonus!) “Everyone in the subway car gasped when the man with the shaved head slid off his seat and crumpled to the floor. Everyone except Gage.” –Sick to Death by… ME! (Okay, so maybe it isn’t one of the best opening lines in literature, but it’s most definitely one of the best opening lines in literature I’VE written. The book just launched earlier this month – I hope you’ll have a look!)
What are some of YOUR favorite opening lines in literature? Please share them in the comments section below.