2019 Reading Challenge

2019 Reading Challenge
Jill Elizabeth has read 0 books toward her goal of 200 books.

Top Tens: Best First Lines or The Importance of a Beginning

I am a devout believer in the importance of the first line. A good opening sentence is not a guarantee that I will love a book or that I will even read the whole thing. What is guaranteed is that if the opening sentence doesn’t grab my attention then I will never know if I would have loved it because I won’t read it. There are simply too many books and too little time – if a book doesn’t hook me with the opening sentence, I put it down.

Long or short is irrelevant to me. There is no formula for the perfect opening sentence. Every author and every book are different. The only key, to my mind, is that the sentence has to be intriguing – it has to make me want to know more, to spark my interest. It has to use language to convey the tone and tenor of the coming story and to make me care about what’s to come. And if it makes me laugh out loud, well, that’s just gravy.

I have been thinking about opening sentences a lot lately, as I have recently started working on a new fiction project that is shaping up to be a novel whose chapters will basically be individual short stories brought together around a central theme, with opening/closing chapters uniting the whole. So I am facing a lot of opening sentences. Now, by my own evaluative “rules”, only the actual first sentence counts as the “love me or lose me” sentence. But since I seem to be writing this new book in pieces, and am not entirely sure how they will be ordered in the end, nearly every sentence has the potential to be the “real” opening sentence. Eek, she said.

In the course of procrastinating – um, I mean, working hard on the development of and ideas for the book (teehee) – I have been thinking about other authors’ opening sentences and the way the very good ones set the entire tone and stage for their underlying story. It seemed to me that if I felt so strongly about the importance of the opening sentence, that others may too, and that it might be worth a Top Ten list. Funny thing – at the same time, a GoodReads friend was starting a discussion thread on this very topic! So while I’ve been thinking about openings myself, I’ve also been engaging in a very interesting discussion on this topic. General consensus there seems to be in line with my own thinking – that the start of a book is critical and that great first lines get remembered, as do the books/authors that provided them.

So here you have what I consider ten of the best first lines. A couple will be from things most readers have at least passing familiarity with, but I suspect several will be new and hopefully lead you to pick up a book you might not have otherwise known about or encountered. I will admit that two of the books turned out to be not quite as fabulous as their first lines implied – the Anne Tyler and the Brom were good reads, but not as spectacular as their opening sentences seemed to imply. Enjoy – and I you have a favorite first line that I didn’t include, please share it! I’m always interested in stumbling upon good writing… 🙂

Top 10 Best First Lines

1. “He often wondered if we were all characters in one of God’s dreams.” Reality and Dreams (Muriel Spark)
2. “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” Back When We Were Grownups (Anne Tyler)
3. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
4. “Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick.” The Shining (Stephen King)
5. “‘God? Presumably with two “d”s,’ said the concierge, without looking up.” The Old Man and Mr. Smith: A Fable (Peter Ustinov)
6. “My father had a face that could stop a clock.” The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel (Jasper Fforde)
7. “First of all it was October, a rare month for boys.” Something Wicked This Way Comes (Ray Bradbury)
8. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Pride And Prejudice (Jane Austen)
9. “It would happen again tonight: the really bad thing.” The Child Thief: A Novel (Brom)
10. “I know, I know – it seemed crazy that the alien had come to Toronto.” Calculating God (Robert J. Sawyer)

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