Sunday, April 12, 2009

It was a dark and stormy night...

I just picked up The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill of the Rapid Read shelf. I'm not certain I can accomplish this in seven days, but I'm going to give it my best. I was struck immediately by the opening sentence of the novel: "I seem to have trouble dying." Whenever I find a book with a great opening line, it slows me down. Sometimes I have to reread the first couple of pages.

This got me thinking about other great opening lines in literature. There are the classics:

"Call Me Ishmael" (Moby-Dick)

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife" (Pride and Prejudice)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of
 foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." (A Tale of Two Cities)

Such thinking (as it usually does) got me googling. I came across the website, 100 Best First Lines of Novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review. Since I'm in control here, these are my favourites.

"Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature. " (The Debut)

"It was the day my grandmother exploded." (The Crow Road)
"Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered
 she had turned into the wrong person." (Back When We Were Grownups)

"Justice? - You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law." (A Frolic of His Own)

"Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash." (Crash)

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." (I Capture the Castle)

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon." (The Last Good Kiss)

"Of all the things that drive me to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women." (Middle Passage)

When I gave this posting its title, I was being silly picturing Snoopy atop his doghouse with his typewriter, beginning his novel with the cliche "It was a dark and stormy night..."

Who knew it was an actual opening for an actual book (published way back in 1830 by the way).

"It was a dark and stormy nights; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flames of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." (Paul Clifford)


  1. Here are some great opening lines from young adult books:

    "Things had been getting a little better until I got a letter from my dead sister. That more or less ruined my day."
    –Dead Girls Don't Write Letters by Gail Giles

    "It's the first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache."
    –Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

    "We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck."
    –Feed by M.T. Anderson

    "It was a dark, blustery afternoon in spring, and the city of London was chasing a small mining town across the dried-out bed of the old North Sea."
    –Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve

    "I was born with water on the brain."
    –The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

    "As an interactive horror experience, with beasts from Hell, mayham, gore, and dismemberment, it was an impressive event. As a high school prom, however, the evening was marginally less successful."
    –Prom Dates from Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore

    "Better brace yourself, / loser. / Because you / are about to be dumped. / Big time.
    –What my Girlfriend doesn't Know by Sonya Sones.

    "I have this dream where both legs work and both arms work and I don't have any scars on the outside..."
    –Trigger by Susan Vaught

    "I knew today would be ugly."
    –Evolution, Me & Other Freaks of Nature by Robin Brande

  2. I would also recommend checking out:



    Both sites post the first line from one book every day.

  3. Great post! A great first line is usually a pretty key factor for me as well to ensure that I'll at least give the book a try. My favouite first line would have to be the Pride and Prejudice one - it still gets me and I've read this book multiple times!