Starting a book so it hooks the reader is the hardest thing for me to write. In this post, I’m going to list some of my favorite first sentences in books. I’ll also tell you why I like them.
The Princess Bride: “This is my most favorite book in the world, though I have never read it.”
I like the humor in this beginning. It sets the tone for the rest of the story.
Moby Dick: “Call me Ishmael.”
Although I didn’t like the book, I love the way the author slashed down all pretense between reader and writer. Wish I’d thought of it.
The Catcher in the Rye: “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. “
I love this one so much. Especially the crap part. In fact, I tried to do something like this as a start to my latest young adult book. None of the agents liked it. Their comment was, “Although I like the idea of your novel, the pages you sent didn’t draw me in the way I would like to be drawn in.” Back to the drawing board on that story.
The Stranger: “Mother died today.”
This one is simple, but right away I have a million questions that I just have to read more to find out the answers to.
Slaughterhouse-Five: “All this happened, more or less.”
A tongue in cheek opening, but it makes me smile and want to know more.
The Crow Road: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
Very visual. I can picture an older woman blowing up into pieces.
The Color Purple: “You better not never tell nobody but God.”
I love the title of this book and the opening line tells me something scandalous has happened, and I’m dying to find out what it was.
The Bell Jar: “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 electrocution of two people and the main character’s confusion draw me in and make me want to know why she put these two situations together.
Herzog: “If I am out of my mind, it’s all right with me, thought Moses Herzog.”
This opening makes me wonder why Moses thinks he’s out of his mind and if it’s for the same reason I sometimes think the very same thing.
Lord Jim: “He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull.”
I read this in school and wasn’t that taken with it then, but now, I can picture Lord Jim and want to find out more about him.
A Frolic of His Own: “Justice?—You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”
I can picture this man—angry, wanting revenge—and I wonder what he does. I have to read on to find out . . .
Crash: “Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.”
This one starts me wondering: How many car crashes did he have? Two. Ten. More? Did he do it on purpose or was he just an unlucky guy? Or maybe, someone was out to kill him . . .
I Capture the Castle: “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”
This is another one I don’t care for the title of, but the first line makes me laugh and picture a woman sitting in a bucket of suds in her sink.
Scaramouch: “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”
I want to meet this guy. Follow him around in all his adventures! I’m in love with him already . . .
The Red Badge of Courage: “The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.”
I don’t like war stories, but Crane has done such a perfect job of showing the setting that I almost want to read on.
What are your favorite opening lines from novels?