Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: Beginnings

This week's BTT topic:

Here's another idea about memorable first lines from books.

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?
You know, after fifty-some years of reading, it's very hard to remember all those first lines, folks.

I can't say that I recall ever liking or disliking a book just because of its first line, or that I remember any book specifically because of its first line. And at the moment, I can't think of any books I've disliked but remember simply because of the first line.

I always think the most successful opening lines (or first few lines, anyway) of a book convey something of the tenor of the entire book, or at least delineate the main character in an arresting and appropriate fashion. That's a tall order, and even some of the greatest works of literature don't achieve it.

From the ones that do, these are some of my favorites:

You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter. (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain)

Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. (Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell)

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984, George Orwell)

"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug." (Little Women, Louisa May Alcott)

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice "without pictures or conversation?" (Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll)

The new curate seemed quite a nice young man, but what a pity it was that his combinations showed, tucked carelessly into his socks, when he sat down. (Some Tame Gazelle, Barbara Pym)

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, Virginia Woolf)

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. (The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger)

Evelyn was an insomniac so when they say she died in her sleep, you have to question that. (Pontoon, Garrison Keillor)

Here is Edward Bear, coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. (Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne)
Hmmmmm. Obviously, I could go on like this all day. But that's enough firsts for now.


  1. I completely agree with that. Those are some great lines, by the way.

  2. As I read over the quotes, I flashed back to each novel. Thanks for the nice vacation!

  3. I really enjoyed reading your post. Some of those books I've not read and now want to, and some I've read and enjoyed the breeze of them again. One, Catcher in the Rye, I've read three times and don't like, but rereading the first sentence makes me want to reread it again... what's up with that?

    The power of a first sentence :-)

  4. The quote from Pontoon stopped me in my tracks - now that's a first line that's made me very interested in finding out what the rest of the book is about! Great choice.

  5. You recalled those great lines for me! Thanks! Truly enjoyed reading those!

    Here is my BTT post

  6. I'm so glad you included the line from The Catcher in the Rye . I thought about it after I finished my post, and it makes me happy to see it here.

  7. I have such a terrible memory when it comes to first lines. I do try and make a habit of reading the first paragraph of two of a book I'm considering adding to my TBR collection if I get the opportunity. I can usually tell from that whether the book and I will get along.

  8. I have such a terrible memory when it comes to first lines. I do try and make a habit of reading the first paragraph of two of a book I'm considering adding to my TBR collection if I get the opportunity. I can usually tell from that whether the book and I will get along.

  9. I am going to be reading Catcher in the Rye soon. I have never read. I heard I am in for a treat.

  10. Great post, and some fantastic first lines!

  11. Some of my favorites in your choices! I can't believe I forgot the first line to Catcher in the Rye in my post though, I love that book.

  12. I am so glad that I'm not the only one who remembers the first line to Gone with the Wind. I absolutely love it!

  13. You have some great lines there. I'm not very good at remembering first lines.

    Here's my BTT post

  14. It's amazing how instantly recognizable a book can be in one sentence. Like Catcher in the Rye - that has popped up a few times recently (I think it's in a typing race game I play with my co-workers) and just that one sentence always brings the whole book back to my mind. When I read the book a few years ago I really didn't care for it, but I've been wanting to go back and read it again.


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