Thursday, July 24, 2008

Booking Through Thursday: First Impressions

This week's question: 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?

I will admit to being a bit of a snob when it comes to first sentences. If a writer can capture me with the first sentence or the first paragraph of a book, I am much more inclined to read on. That's not to say that I won't read a book that doesn't capture me in this way, but it has to work a bit harder to earn my good opinion.

What I look for in a first sentence is something that causes me to react -- raise an eyebrow, ask a question, or immediately identify with a character. All of the lines I will quote hereafter have caused one or more of those kinds of reactions:

"I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen years old with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and I nearly stepped on him."
-- The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King

"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 by Jane Austen

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
-- 1984 by George Orwell

"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."
-- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

"No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man's and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water."
-- The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

"Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity."
-- Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Agatha Christie wrote many of my favorite first lines, so it was hard to narrow them down to just two. One of these even addresses the effect of the first line upon the reader:

"I believe that a well-known anecdote exists to the effect that a young writer, determined to make the commencement of his story forcible and original enough to catch and rivet the attention of the most blasé of editors, penned the following sentence: "'Hell!' said the Duchess."
-- Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

"In every club there is a club bore. The Coronation Club was no exception; and the fact that an Air Raid was in progress made no difference to normal procedure."
-- Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie


  1. You've listed many fine examples.

  2. I love that first Agatha Christie line! I've never read anything by her and it immediately draws me in and makes me want to. What a great sentence. =)

  3. Lol. Love that line from the video.

  4. I do the same thing sometimes--judge a book based on the first one or two paragraphs, particularly if it is a book I have never heard of but picked randomly off the shelf. The first sentence alone isn't enough to make me decide though--not usually.

    I have no memory for quotes or first lines and so I can't say I have any favorites. I listed a few from the past several months that caught my attention, but that's probably the best I can do.

  5. Meghan: I highly recommend Agatha Christie. Her writing is wonderfully witty.

    Confuzzled: It really is great. Some of the reactions on the video are priceless.

    LiteraryFeline: I couldn't list most of these from memory, either. I know the opening line of Pride and Prejudice by heart, but the others I had to look up.