First published at LiberalAmerica.org
I don’t know about you, but a book’s opening line plays a huge factor in whether or not I’ll continue reading it. Interesting first lines have that power — the power to entice a reader enough to keep turning that page. Sometimes these lines are funny, sometimes they’re scary, and sometimes they are just so damn moving that you just want to tear the book apart (metaphorically… usually) to figure out what’s going on.
If I find the blurb on the back to be really engaging, then I might stick around for a few chapters, but if I’m already “meh” about the story, then the writer’s first couple of pages better damn well hold my attention.
Fortunately, this does happen fairly often, and I’ve read through a number of books that hooked me from the very first line. Sure, sometimes the first sentence is great while the rest of the story makes you want to set yourself on fire instead of reading it (or you could, y’know, just put the book down – just saying), but, hey, nobody’s perfect.
1. “I don’t know how other men feel about their wives walking out on them, but I helped mine pack.” – Breaking Up by W.H. Manville
At least he was kind enough to help her pack.
2. “It wasn’t until I had become engaged to Miss Piano that I began avoiding her.” – Into Your Tent I’ll Creep by Peter DeVries
Honestly, the title of this one was enough to hold my interest. Which probably says more about me than I’d like.
3. “Balloon Tying For Christ was the cheapest balloon manual I could find.” – Clown Girl by Monica Drake
Everybody loves balloons.
4. “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” – I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Why is she sitting in the kitchen sink? Why not the bathroom sink? Why not perched upon her dresser? WHY?!
5. “How five crows managed to lift a twenty-pound baby boy into the air was beyond Prue, but that was certainly the least of her worries.” – Wildwood by Colin Meloy
What could possibly be happening that the least of her worries was a baby being abducted by birds? Also, teamwork. It was probably teamwork. Crows are cool like that.
6. “A white Pomeranian named Fluffy flew out of the a fifth-floor window in Panna, which was a grand-new building with the painter’s scaffolding still around it. Fluffy screamed.” – Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
As someone whose neighbor has the Pomeranian from Hell, I was very happy with this line. By the way, “Pomeranian from Hell” would be a great book title.
7. “It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression ‘As pretty as an airport.” The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul by Douglas Adams
I don’t know, I’ve seen some nice airports in my day. Three, to be exact… in magazines.
8. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” – The Princess Bride by William Goldman
Me, when people ask me what I thought about their work. Yes, I’m an ass.
9. “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” – Choke by Chuck Palahniuk
The only thing I hate more than reverse psychology is being challenged… Wait. Damn it.
10. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
You know (or hope) that when people are being described as perfectly normal, stuff is about to get messed up.
11. “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
So this book is set in Miami? Or Hell. (I really hope it’s Hell.)
12. “All of this happened, more or less.” – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
I don’t have a funny remark about this one – it just caught my attention enough to keep reading.
13. “A screaming comes across the sky.” – Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
Yeah… that was probably me receiving my bills. Sorry.
14. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984 by George Orwell
Striking thirteen what? Don’t beat people with clocks. Wait, are the clocks sentient and attacking people on their own? Now that’s a story.
15. “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – Neuromancer by William Gibson
Ha. Channel. Port. Get it? Like the English Channel? I love puns. I also love clever descriptions like that one.
16. “We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.” – Tracks by Louise Erdrich
And emotionally moving similes – like this one.