Great Beginnings

Having trouble starting your story or novel? For inspiration, check out this list of 100 Best First Lines from Novels, courtesy of the American Book Review. (Hint: the first five come from Melville, Austen, Pynchon, Garcia Marquez, and Nabokov.)

4 thoughts on “Great Beginnings

  1. Mike says:

    I love the Garcia Marquez line. The book, too. I think a lot of them are pretty boring first lines by themselves, but when you read the line after reading the book, they take on a stronger meaning.

    If Moby Dick was never written, and I started a book with that line, nobody would care unless the book turned out to be pretty good.

  2. grackyfrogg says:

    i wonder what the criteria was for choosing the best first lines? i mean, i like nabokov, but the first line from lolita?? hmm.

    interesting point that mike makes. reading just the first lines of books is an exercise in surprise–i mean, surprised that many of the lines just seem so ordinary. so it becomes no surprise at all that most of the books (as a whole) on the list are acknowledged classics or “must-reads.” i wonder if there are mediocre books out there that still managed, in spite of themselves, to follow impressive first lines?

    would be fun to read a list of 100 best first lines of bad books…

  3. Erika Dreifus says:

    I must confess a fondness for #87 (but then again in addition to seeing the words on the page I can “hear” Derek Jacobi saying them in the series). Same phenomenon with *Lolita*–maybe it resonates more when you’ve heard Jeremy Irons utter the words.

    I agree with Mike about the importance of “what follows” the first line. Even just the additional second or third line can make a huge difference (for instance, I don’t remember just the first line of The Stranger in isolation; I always think of the words that follow, “Or maybe it was yesterday, I’m not sure.” (That’s my translation–I don’t have the English copy handy to check.)

    Interesting idea about mediocre books that may have had exceptional first lines, grackyfrogg….

  4. grackyfrogg says:

    well, not even mediocre necessarily (though that might be fun to think about), just not so well-known, or “established,” as classic, must-read lit.

    anyway, was glad to see #47, by C.S. Lewis. i love that line (and the book).

    erika, i like your point about how it might makes a difference to actually hear the lines. always intriguing to consider the relation of the written word with the spoken word, and how they can each nourish the other.

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