Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Beginnings

Suggested by: Nithin:

What are your favorite 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?
When I come across a book I am unfamiliar with but which sounds like something I would like to read, I sometimes will peruse the first paragraph or two to get a feel for the writing. Call it a taste test, if you will. I like to know what I am getting myself into. In that way, the first several sentences may be the determining factor in whether I decide to purchase a particular book.

I have a terrible memory when it comes to remembering quotes, much less the first sentence of books I read. That isn't to say I haven't been instantly grabbed by a first line: a particularly juicy morsel, a shocking moment, or a witty introduction. However, my brain has a tendency to remember the gist of a story, the essence of the characters, and the whole of the idea rather than in bits and pieces--quote by quote, word for word. I do find beauty in language and the intricacies of how a story is put together, don't get me wrong. Why some details stick and others do not, I cannot really say. This is why I will never good at a game like Trivial Pursuit.

I thought that keeping a reading journal would help me remember quotes and passages that especially touch me, but I often get so caught up in the story that I often forget to jot the page number down. And by the time I remember there was a passage I meant to make note of, I am too far along in the story to want to go back in search of it. Although, I have been known to scour a book looking for said passage when I just cannot shake it. There are always exceptions.

Looking through my reading journal over the past several months, I came across a few first sentences which still grab me, reading them again today:

Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. [The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes]

If Norman Lyons had known he was going to die that morning, he would have worn different clothes. [Say Goodbye by E J Rand]

As Omar Yussef came along the passage, the flies left the flooded toilets to examine him. [A Grave in Gaza by Matt Beynon Rees]

When all is said and done, killing my mother came easily. [The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold]

He knew at once it was a human bone, when he took it from the baby who was sitting on the floor chewing it. [Silence of the Grave by Arnaldur Indriđason]

And of the ones sitting on my immediate TBR shelf that have me wanting to pick them up and read them right now:

Accidents ambush the unexpecting, often violently, just like love. [The Gargoyle by Andrew Davison]

In the beginning, I believed in second chances. [Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult]

It's not that I don't like people. [Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading: Finding and Losing Myself in Books by Maureen Corrigan]

I was a private investigator once. But then we've all been things we aren't anymore. [Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas.]
My husband actually bought the Richard Aleas' book because of the first two sentences, and I thought it would be fun to mention his recent favorite, but then after reading the first lines myself, I want to read the book too. Go figure.

When it gets right down to it, however, I have no favorites. First lines can reel me in immediately or, on the rare occasion, they can be off-putting. Regardless, it takes a lot more than a compelling first sentence to hold my interest in a book.


  1. My response to this was similar to yours, but as usual, yours is well thought out and said better :-). Opening lines don't tend to be what stick with me once I finish reading a book, although good ones will bring me into the story quickly.

    But despite my difficulty in remembering things like the opening line of a book, I'm actually pretty good at Trivial Pursuit :-).

  2. Those are great opening lines!
    I don't remember many good opening lines either, for I've a bad memory but some of them stand out from the others that make it memorable to me. :)

    For new authors, I tend to read the summary and the first few passages to get a feel of the writing before deciding if I should buy their books. However, sometimes they can be misleading. ;P

  3. You must read The Gargoyle! I just published my review this evening. You won't regret it. I also read and reviewed Leave Me Alone last year. I enjoyed that book, but it got kind of slow toward the end. Based upon the first sentence, I'm definitely going to have to read The Almost Moon. That hooked me in. Great post!

  4. Great answer. I forgot how great the first line in Silence of the Graves was. That was one that really stood out to me when I read it. I just checked Voices, another by Indridason, but it wasn't nearly as interesting.

    And I was wondering whether to get The Gargoyle, but now I think I'll have to.

  5. I have the same problem with reading journals. I've always kept them, but I have a terrible time remembering to write things down in them. I think I do better just marking passages in the books themselves, as long as they're not library books!

  6. You quoted some great beginnings. I did not remember any!

    As you know, I prefer the middle!

  7. Those are great! I remember that line from the Somnambulist. Unfortunately that book really didn't live up to my expectations. What a shame as it had such a good start.

  8. Definitely takes more than a good sentence, but it does help! I have a rotten memory for things that like as well--maybe I'll start jotting down interesting quotes that I like. I was better about that in grad school when I had to search for things to use in papers--I took better notes and did a lot more flagging of passages than I do now.

    Still confused about follow up comments! Is there an easy way to enable follow-up comments to be emailed like they used to? I don't see anything...

  9. I like the first lines of Gone With The Wind. I know, that's totally not cool, but there it is.
    "Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarlton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father."

    Reading that, I just knew I was in for a juicy good time!

  10. Hey! I nominated you for an award. Check it out on my blog.


  11. SONGS OF INNOCENCE is a great book. You definitely should read it after your husband does. And after you read it, we should discuss. Because there's much to discuss...

    First lines? I can't remember one offhand, but the first line in my new book SHOT GIRL is "He looked better dead than alive."

  12. I tend not to remember first lines either except for from a few classics because I've heard them so many times.
    I like that first line of Songs of Innocence too. Simple but so true.

  13. You've listed some great first lines. I wonder if we'd all remember them if we went back to marking, highlighting and underlining books like we used to 20 years ago.

  14. Those are all good openers! The only one I could think of was an old favorite...the beginning of A Tale of Two Cities. I was a bit too lazy to browse my bookshelves for more!

  15. Those are great, but I had trouble reading because I'm still wiping away tears from the lion video. LOL

  16. Florinda - I think your response was much more articulate than mine! You are too hard on yourself. :-) I wish I was better at Trivial Pursuit. I'm good at playing Apples to Apples . . .

    Melody - I'm the same way when it comes to trying new books. I first will determine whether I'm interested in the book by reading the synopsis on the back cover or inner flap and then I will read a little bit of the book as my second step. If the book passes both tests, it may end up coming home with me. :-)

    Jennifer - I am looking forward to reading The Gargoyle. It sounds like such a good book. Thanks for the heads up about Leave Me Alone!

    Elizabeth - I did too until I found it in my journal. I think it was one of my favorites from last year.

    Joy - I only started marking (in pencil) in books in the last couple of years and even then I am a minimalist: a tiny arrow pointing to the section I want to come back to--this only if I don't have my reading journal handy. It's hard to break that "don't write in books" rule when it's so ingrained in me.

    Gautami - I had to look thos up. LOL I'm terrible with remembering things like this.

    Iliana - Yeah, The Somnambulist did take off in its own direction after awhile. I did like the book, but it wasn't quite all that the first sentence promised. At least what it promised in my own mind. :-)

    Trish - Maybe we are just out of practice. Although, I don't know if I want to go back to reading like I'm studying. It's not as much fun that way, you know?

    You might consider trying to keep track of comments on blogs that don't have automatic e-mail notifications. The imbedded comment format I am using now doesn't have the notification feature currently. Maybe someday.

    J - You aren't the only person who has chosen the first line from Gone With the Wind as a favorite. So, I think you must be at least partially cool. :-)

    Trisha - Thank you so much! You made my day!

    Karen - I shared your comment with my husband and now he's rushing to finish SONGS OF INNOCENCE. And then he tells me that I should probably read the first book in the series first, which of course we don't have. I wish he hadn't told me it was the second book. You've sure got me curious now though!

    What a great first sentence! That would probably make me list of standouts.

    Nat - Isn't it? I liked it too. Now I can get on my husband for adding to the TBR collection he keeps hinting that I stop adding to.

    C.B. - We probably would remember them more--at least for a short while. I've always tended to remember things best if I actually rewrote them though.

    Alisia - I haven't yet read may of the classic books that people are quoting from, although I am familiar with many just because they are so often referred to.

    Nancy - I know! I watched the video three times and cried each time.

  17. I like that you share first lines from books you're waiting to read. The first line is an all-important attention-grabber when I'm deciding on the next book!

  18. Jeane - It definitely can help when a book begins with an irresistible first sentence.


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