Every novel starts somewhere. The author's job is to snag readers with that opening and keep them captivated.
Those first lines should be enticing or arresting. They should evoke the tone of the book, be compatible with the theme and storyline.
In reading through the 100 Best First Lines chosen by the editors of the American Book Review, I picked a few that got my attention. And, by the way, this still being Banned Books Week, a number of these amazing books also make those lists. Go figure.
I considered making this a quiz with the book title and author at the bottom of the post or in the comments section, but, hey, you probably don't want to work that hard. You can test yourself by trying to guess before reading the identity. I'm putting the lines in italics to set them off from the rest of the post and giving the number of where they fell in the 100 Best First Line list.
#3: A screaming comes across the sky.
My immediate reaction to "a screaming," rather than "a scream" and to it coming from "across" the sky is WHAT? WHY? So I'm hooked. The book is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon.
#8: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
Thirteen. Need anything more? This one is 1984, George Orwell.
#15: The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new.
I love me some ennui. Gotta be Samuel Beckett, Murphy.
#16: 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.
Um, do I need to tell you? The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger.
#21: Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.
After this, of course, you may be lost. Ulysses, James Joyce.
#26: 124 was spiteful. Full of a baby's venom.
Spooky, much? Beloved, Toni Morrison.
#38: All this happened, more or less.
A little time shift, anyone? Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut.
#39: They shoot the white girl first.
Oh, boy. This is a loaded sentence that drags the reader in, despite misgivings. Yes, it's going to be tough and probably brilliant. Paradise, Toni Morrison.
#52: We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.
Bleak, but beautiful, somehow. I kept reading when I found it years ago. Tracks by Louise Erdrich.
#53: It was a pleasure to burn.
Many of you may know this iconic first line from Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.
#65: You better not never tell nobody but God.
This is going to be intense, and I want to know why. The Color Purple, Alice Walker.
#96: Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimension of space.
A chewy thought that you know is going to be explored. Margaret Atwood, Cat's Eye.
#97: 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.
Say what? Gotta know more of this strange tale. Orlando, Virginia Woolf
Think your first line has got what it takes? You can share it in the comments section or just drool about the above. I'd love to hear any thoughts on this subject.