Best Opening Line EVAR

Got into an argument (or disccusion) with a friend about what the best opening line from a book is. My fav has always been “Love in the Time of Cholera”:

It never failed, the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of unrequited love.

But of course, is it worth restricting it to strictly first sentence? Another candidate is Chandler’s “The Big Sleep”:

It was about 11 o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and I was wearing my powder blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks, with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, clean, shaved, and sober. I didn’t care who knew it. I was everthing the well dressed private detective ought to be. I was calling on four million dollars.

And what also came up was, “does the overall quality of a book have an impact on our perception?” As well as, should we only consider high quality books?

Anyway… any other nominations?

My personal favorite is from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, a classic tale of hope and good will and the Christmas Spirit, which starts out:

“Marley was dead, to begin with.”

My two favorites are from two of my favorite books when I was growing up:

‘In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.’

From ‘The Great Gatsby’,and:

‘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.’

From ‘The Cather in the Rye’.Since I’m probably not alone in choosing those,another one I really like is from Paul Theroux’s ‘My Secret History’:

‘I was born poor in rich America,yet my secret instincts were better than money and were for me a source of power.’

If you were to ask my favorite first pages,I would say all of the above,and add to it ‘A Farewell to Arms’.

That intial chapter in Farewell to Arms works more like a poem than prose. I’ve always admired it too.

It’s much more than an opening sentence or first page, but the initial scene that opens Snow Crash, the pizza delivery scene, has always stayed with me. I’d say the rest of the book never lived up to it, and I enjoyed the book.

“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.” ( James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss.).

Well, the opening sentence from “A Tale of Two Cities” is an evergreen. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of hope, it was the age of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…” it goes on; I don’t remember exactly how it goes.

Neuromancer: “The sky was the color of television tuned to a dead channel.” A nice stylistic flourish to begin the cyberpunk era – implying a narrator for whom technology is more real than nature, ergo he uses the former to supply metaphors for the latter.

The Aeneid: “I sing of Arms and of a Man…”

Anna Karenina: “All happy families are alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Okay, maybe that’s not such a great sentence. Tolstoy is straining a bit hard for an epigram there. Great book, though.

I always remember the first sentence of “The Chocolate War”: “They murdered him.” Not a great first sentence, but it’s stuck in my head all these years.

A Tale of Two Cities also has one of the finest and most famous ending lines.

I always liked Dante for this good opener:

“Midway upon the journey of our life I found that I was in a dusky wood; For the right path, whence I had strayed, was lost. Ah me!”

Yep, in fact the whole last chapter is great – Dickens in his “transcendent” mode. I don’t think many writers could pull off something so overtly stentorian and moralistic, but it’s one of my favorite prose passages. The cadences (and the sentiments expressed) are almost Biblical in their gravity.

Hey, I just read that book a few months ago. Enjoyable read. Damned if the book didn’t make me want to go drink beer in a bar, though.

My favorite line of all time was not an opening line, but teaser text on the cover for the first book in Mike Stackpole’s Dark Conspiracy series:

“He woke up in a body bag; things went downhill from there.”

“Call me Ishmael”

“It was love at first sight, the first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Catch-22, Joseph Heller

That novel produced many of my fondest literary moments, including the excellent working world practice of only allowing people to see you in your office when you’re not there.

The first paragraph (or two) of The Virgin Suicides is pretty damn good. Sorry, I can’t just post it here, but I think this link should work:

I’ll admit, I haven’t read much more than that of the book, unfortunately. Anyone out there seen the film version? Tom? I thought it was a spectacular movie.

Great flick. I wonder if Sofia(Sophia) Coppola is working on anything else. Maybe she will direct and star in “The Godfather IV: Chicks Rule”?

“You are not the type of guy who is in this type of place at this time of night.”

From Bright Lights, Big City, which, while not the greatest of novels has some great style to it.

“A destiny that leads the English to the Dutch is strange enough; but one that leads from Epsom into Pennsylvania, and thence into the hills that shut in Altamont over the proud coral cry of the cock, and the soft stone smile of an angel, is touched by that dark miracle of chance which makes new magic in a dusty world.”

Is that a sentence or what? Boy that Thomas Wolfe could write. (Look Homeward, Angel, for the uninitiated.)

And just to show I’m still a geek:

“‘Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man’”

From The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
From Metamorphosis. By Kafka. Of course.

Potental Hollywood pitch:

Producer: So there’s this guy…
Big-time Studio Executive: Aha.
P:…and he’s like a totally regular guy…
BTSE: Gotcha.
P: …but one morning, by some strange force of will…
BTSE: Carry on.
P: …he founds himself transformed into a giant cockroach.
BTSE: …
P: It’s pure gold, right?
BTSE:…
P:Gold, I tell you!..Gold!..[as he is slowly carried away by security]

Hollywood just doesn’t get it!

“In this book I will take you the reader with me into the secret inner world of the pimp.”

-Iceberg Slim, “Pimp”

“If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle.”

A Series of Unfortunate Events
The Bad Beginning
-Lemony Snickett

“It comes down to this: if I had not been arrested by the Turkish police, I would have been arrested by the Greek police. I had no choice but to do as this man Harper told me. He was entirely responsible for what happened to me.” (Eric Ambler, The Light of Day)

junior allen