I was roaming around ew.com this morning and came across a photo gallery titled “20 Classic Opening Lines in Books”. At first I just wanted to see how many of these books I’ve read and which books I have yet to read. Now I’m wondering more about the “classic” part of the title. Some of these are classic. A lot of these are too modern and may not ever be classic. It might be too early to tell. I have only read 7 of the 20 books (but I’ve seen the movie “A River Runs Through It”. Does that count?). I have read other books by a couple of the authors, just not the book on this list. I have no interest in reading some of the books based on the genre or on the other books by the same author.
What makes a good, “classic”, opening line? Is it just that it is supposed to grab you right away? Is it something quotable? What do you think?
After you have read EW’s list, you might want to check out the Bulwer Lytton contest winners. They hold a contest each year for the worst opening book lines. Of course they aren’t real books, but they are hilarious. The link for the winners is here.
And now, according to EW, the 20 Classic Opening Lines in Books:
Call me Ishmael.
–MOBY-DICK (1851), Herman Melville
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.
–A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859), Charles Dickens
All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
–ANNA KARENINA (1877), Leo Tolstoy
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.
–THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1885), by Mark Twain
If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
–THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (1951), J.D. Salinger
It was a pleasure to burn.
–FAHRENHEIT 451 (1953), Ray Bradbury
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
–THE BELL JAR (1963), Sylvia Plath
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.
–ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE (1967), Gabriel García Márquez
We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
–FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1971), Hunter S. Thompson
A screaming comes across the sky.
–GRAVITY’S RAINBOW (1973), Thomas Pynchon
Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.
–HIGH-RISE (1977), J.G. Ballard
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
–A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES (1980), John Kennedy Toole
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
–NEUROMANCER (1984), William Gibson
In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.
–A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1989), Norman Maclean
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.
–MIDDLESEX (2002), Jeffrey Eugenides
They shoot the white girl first.
–PARADISE (1999), Toni Morrison
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.
–THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, by Neil Gaiman (2008)