On Pantagraph.com, I discovered a list of “100 Best First Lines from Novels.” I don’t know how many books someone went through in order to compile the list but it was a fun article to read. And, although I usually give an author more than one sentence to draw me into a story (once or twice it’s been an entire book), I selected ten of my favorites, in no particular order:
1. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)
2. It was the day my grandmother exploded. Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)
3. I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)
4. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge (1944)
5. Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person. Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (2001)
6. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)
7. "Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass. Rose Macaulay, The Towers of Trebizond (1956)
8. The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between (1953)
9. He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. Raphael Sabatini, Scaramouche (1921)
10. I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing; that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind; and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost: Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly, I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me. Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (1759n1767)
My last selection is also probably on someone’s list of longest first sentences of a novel.
Do you have any favorite first lines you’d like to share? Or, perhaps an example of a worst first sentence of a novel (and did you continue to read it anyway)? I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for stopping by.
Jane Kennedy Sutton
Author of The Ride (to be released by ArcheBooks Publishing)
Tags: The Ride, Archebooks, best first lines, novels, Ethan Frome, Middlesex, Tristram Shandy, Anne Tyler, pentagraph