Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Best Opening Lines

American Book Review, a nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University, created a list of the 100 best opening lines in a novel. Here are the top ten.

1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Out of these, which is your favorite? Do you have another that you think should be in the top ten?


Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

One of my favorites is further down on the list (#49) – “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” —Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

Carol Kilgore said...

I like this one best:

65. You better not never tell nobody but God. —Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

coffeelvnmom said...

This one stuck out because it made me laugh -

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink. —Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)

info said...

These are all great. Jane and Coffemom's made me laugh.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I like #85: "When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." —James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss (1978)

Am I the only one who thinks some of these "literary" openers are pompous and self-indulgent?

iamwritermom said...

This has always been one of my favorites: "When I stepped into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house I had only two things on my mind, Paul Newman and a ride home." Ponyboy Curtis from S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders.

Kerrie said...

These are all so great. Writermom, I forgot about Outsiders. I loved that book in Jr. High. My favorite first line ever is, "Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty." --Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle (1997)

Kerrie said...

This came from Pam Wolf via email:
"Hey Kerrie,

My favorite is "It was the best of times...." It describes almost each and every day don't you think? I would include the line "Life is Difficult" from Scott Peck's The Road less Traveled but add a line from that first paragraph: "this is one of the greatest truths because once we truly see this truth we transcend it. Once we accept it the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."(paraphrased) The other one I carry around is Mary Oliver's poem, "Wild Geese", that begins: "You do not have to be good" and continues to let you off the hook for all the failures or imagined failures in your life by saying "you do not have to walk on your knees for 100 miles through the desert, repenting" Hummm, this little exercise made me wonder a bit about (ahem) me. Anyway, it's fun to stretch a bit.. :-)

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