Sunday, February 05, 2006

Best First Lines

The American Book Review has compiled a list of the 100 Best First Lines from Novels. Except for the predictability and unoriginality of placing "Call me Ishmael" (which is, I think, memorable but not necessarily the best) at the top, the list is an interesting, as well as diverse, one and has whet my appetite for more than a few of the books, such as Samuel Beckett's Murphy, which begins, "The sun shone, having no alternative, on nothing new."

Limiting myself to books I've actually read, I put together my top ten, in no particular order. Most are on the ABR's list; a couple are not.

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

"The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it." --V. S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River

"It was love at first sight." --Joseph Heller, Catch-22

"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." --Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

"See the child." --Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." --Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea

"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest." --Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

"Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo . . ." --James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins." --Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

"They're out there." --Ken Kesey, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest

The ABR's list includes only novels, but I can't resist mentioning a couple works of nonfiction:

"That's good thinking there, Cool Breeze." --Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

"Everything begins with the body of the father." --David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered


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