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booking through thursday: beginnings

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?

Shamefully, there are none that I can recall off the top of my head! I have definitely been struck by first lines, though, and I especially like the way the first line can sweep you up into the book. Even better, when you look back, sometimes they symbolize the point of the entire book. Of course, right now I’m thinking of Pride and Prejudice:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

And really, this line alone can show us how brilliant Jane Austen was. For a single sentence, it has so many undertones, and its implications are reflected throughout Pride and Prejudice. In my last literature class, probably ever, near the end of the course my professor handed out a paper with all the first lines from the books we’ve read. There was a steady progression there, from Joyce (Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has a good one, much as I dislike that book personally) to Woolf to Beckett and on. One little sentence can say a lot!

I think most of what I like about first lines is that, even when I don’t remember them, they conjure up an entire literary world when I hear them again. My last review was of The Hours by Michael Cunningham, which links to Mrs. Dalloway, and that latter book has one of my favorites:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

Not for any particular reason, other than that it embodies the feel of the book. Sometimes, I don’t need to reread or hear more than that just to remember what a wonderful book I read and to relive the story.

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5 comments to booking through thursday: beginnings

  • Don’t feel guilty; you’re in the majority.

  • The Mrs. Dalloway line is really good. Everyone rembers the Jane Austen quote.

  • I tend to not remember lines from books either.

  • I seem to like dark first sentences that are a bit shocking. I hadn’t realized that until I was pulling sentences out of my reading journal this evening in response to this question. I have no memory for book quotes, I’m afraid. First lines tend to make an impression on me when I am beginning a book but beyond that they tend to be forgettable.

  • I don’t always remember the lines themselves, either. But I can usually remember that a certain book had a first or last line that I liked. Wish my memory was good enough to recall all the lines “off the top of my head”!