First Lines – Sometimes you’re nearly spent before the ride even starts

Like a thick, red velvet curtain, opening sentences pull open the imagination and anticipation. Hardwiring an instant connection with the mind of the writer, the opening sentences carve a groove in your soul to fit the rest of the story into. If shiny, resounding, or even just steady or clever – they crack the resolve open and spill out respect and gratitude for the author. Sometimes you’re nearly spent before the ride even starts.

Opening lines are one of my favorite aspects about reading. So I thought I’d share some of my favorites here today. I’ve placed the longer ones first, and the shorter ones last. Interesting how well even the short lines work to hook you.

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

-A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

“Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the saber cut first took up his lodging under our roof.”

-Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

“Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born, on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this state of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the Head of this Chapter.”

-Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

“It would, of course, be in the cursed winter of 1915 – when ice storms had glassed over the city, when Typhoid Mary had come sneaking back, when the Manhattan coroner was discovered to be skunk-drunk at crime scenes – that the loony little porter would confess to eight poison murders.”

-Poisoner’s Handbook – Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum

“I keep the Beast running, I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks. I am young enough, I am old enough. I used to love to fish for trout more than almost anything.

My name is Hig, one name. Big Hig if you need another.

If I ever woke up crying in the middle of a dream, and I’m not saying I did, it’s because the trout are gone every one. Brookies, rainbows, browns, cutthroats, cut bows, every one.”

-The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

“My High School friends have begun to suspect I haven’t told them the full story of my life.
‘Why did you leave Sierra Leone?’
‘Because there is a war.’
‘Did you witness some of the fighting?’
‘Everyone in the country did.’
‘You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?’
‘Yes, all the time.’
I smile a little.
‘You should tell us about it sometime.’
‘Yes, sometime.'”

-A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier by Ishmael Beah

“This file is classified Top Secret. Examination by unauthorized persons is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment up to 20 years and $20,000.”

-Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton

“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression “As pretty as an airport.”

-Long Dark TeaTime of the Soul by Douglas Adams

“Who is John Galt?”

-Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

“Theodore is in the ground.”

-The Alienist by Caleb Carr

It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.”

-The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley


3 thoughts on “First Lines – Sometimes you’re nearly spent before the ride even starts

  1. I loved the title for your post…

    “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. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”
    -Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

  2. Hi Jeff, I thought I replied to this earlier but that goes to show you what trusting the wifi where I live (and no cell reception) will do for me. I agree – Twain seemed to always have great beginnings … and everything after. There’s a new spin on Huck and that story that you might enjoy. I did. It’s called “Finn” by Jon Clinch. It begins:

    “Under a low sun, pursued by fish and mounted by crows and veiled in a loud languid swarm of bluebottle flies, the body comes down the river like a deadfall stripped clean.”

    He’s not as good as Twain in spinning the tale, but he has a great twist on the story that might have been between the lines.


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