“Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.”
I was reading to Bunny last night before bed and I came across one of my favourite opening lines for a book. And it got me thinking about my own novel and how I have yet to write the perfect opener.
To my mind, a great opening line is essential. It may not precede an equally great read, but without it, I won’t even want to buy the book.
The book I was reading last night is a favourite I have referred to before.
Dr Seuss, The Lorax.
“At the far end of town where the grickle-grass grows and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…. is the Street of the Lifted Lorax.”
It’s poetry in narrative because it slides of the tongue, sets the melodic rhythm of the book, is simple and has such visual word choices. It’s perfect.
Other favourites which have immediately intrigued me or demonstrated language I knew I’d appreciate are:
George Orwell, 1984
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
Crisp writing and immediately I know this story is something different.
Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex
“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.”
Unique and captivating. This also tells me right away what story I am reading.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Clever and insightful. Masterful lanaguage and construction.
Carrie Fisher, Surrender the Pink
“Dinah Kaufman lost her virginity a total of three times.”
Catchy, quirky and clever. I love smart and funny writing, so I bought the book right then and there.
The following is an opening paragraph, rather than an opening line, but it is one of the most compelling beginnings of a novel that I have ever read. The rest of the book is just as fantastic if you like crime.
Andrew Vachss, Shella
“The first time I killed someone I was scared. Not scared to be doing it, I did it because I was scared. Shella told me it was like that for her the first time she had sex. I was fifteen that first time. Shella was nine.”
Sparsely written and plain spoken but also gritty, heart wrenching, and unsettling. I love this book. It’s one that stays with you.
Do you have any favourite opening lines of books? I know there are many others I love, but these are the ones that immediately come to mind.
How do you choose a book to buy? Are you like me saying “Yay” or “Nay” depending on the first page? Or maybe the cover and back blurb are important to you. Do you need time to have a good leaf through the pages? Or maybe you only read books that have been recommended by people you trust. Fill me in.
Flickr Photo by photobunny