20 Favorite First Lines from Books

Posted by Hayley on May 18, 2015
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single book in possession of a fantastic plot, must be in want of a good first sentence. Otherwise, who would want to keep reading?

Last week we asked on Facebook and on Twitter: What's your favorite first line from a book? Today we've got your top answers. Did yours make the list?

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"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
Rebecca
by Daphne du Maurier


"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
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The Gunslinger
by Stephen King


"Sometime during your life—in fact, very soon—you may find yourself reading a book, and you may notice that a book's first sentence can often tell you what sort of story your book contains."
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The Miserable Mill
by Lemony Snicket


"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice."
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A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving


"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."
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To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee


"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, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth."
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The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger


"Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive were proud to say they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."
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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
by J.K. Rowling


"Marley was dead, to begin with—there's no doubt about that."
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A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens


"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."
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Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen


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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
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A Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens


"I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."
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The Glass Castle
by Jeannette Walls


"Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were."
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Gone with the Wind
by Margaret Mitchell


"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."
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The Hobbit
by J.R.R. Tolkien


"Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun."
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
by Douglas Adams


"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York."
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The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath



"Once there was a tree...and she loved a little boy."
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The Giving Tree
by Shel Silverstein


"'Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents,' grumbled Jo lying on the rug."
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Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott


"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
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The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
by C.S. Lewis


"It was a pleasure to burn."
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Fahrenheit 451
by Ray Bradbury


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


Don't see your favorite first line? Then share it with us in the comments! And discover more unforgettable lines with this book list: 100 Novels with the Best First Lines.

Comments Showing 1-50 of 132 (132 new)


message 1: by April (new)

April "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."


message 2: by Heather (last edited May 18, 2015 07:17AM) (new)

Heather Godwin These are all great picks! My favorite is Rebecca - I have loved that book since I randomly found it in my school's library years and years ago. I recently finished 'The Glass Castle' and that first line really captures the tone and ending of the book I think.


message 3: by Kelly (last edited May 18, 2015 07:17PM) (new)

Kelly "In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses above a certain rent are women." ~Elizabeth Gaskell, Cranford

A very bold statement in literature, especially Victorian literature.


message 4: by Héctor (new)

Héctor Rodríguez Contusions wrote: ""Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.""

The best beginning of a book in the human's history.


Raymond W Crowley "Who is John Galt?" - Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged


message 6: by Denisse (new)

Denisse "In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit." :')


message 7: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt They're all good. Recently I was particularly struck by Patrick Ness's opening to The Knife of Never Letting Go:

"The first thing you find out when yer dog learns to talk is that dogs don't got nothing much to say."


message 8: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess


message 9: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Sevitt “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."

Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain


message 10: by Rene (new)

Rene "Dirk Moeller didn't know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out."

John Scalzi - The Androids Dream


message 11: by Dave (new)

Dave T "Call me Ishmael."

Moby Dick - Herman Melville


message 12: by Jessica (new)

Jessica "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy


message 13: by José (new)

José The Gunslinger first lines are amazing, one of my favourite quotes.


message 14: by Jennifer (new)

Jennifer Campbell "It was a dark and stormy night." A Wrinkle in Time


message 15: by Kaitlynn (new)

Kaitlynn "The building was on fire, and it wasn't my fault." Blood Rites, Dresden Files, Jim Butcher


message 16: by Alya Al M (new)

Alya Al M The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the Third Age by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.

Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time

Not a sentence, but come on people!


message 17: by Kay (new)

Kay J A few of my favorite made the list, that's cool.


message 18: by Vonze (last edited May 18, 2015 08:47AM) (new)

Vonze "Marley was dead, to begin with." - A Christmas Carol

Great way to hook you into the story :)


message 19: by Jose (new)

Jose Monarrez "Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing." Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra


message 20: by Alyssa (new)

Alyssa "It started in mud, as many things do."
-Tad Williams' Otherland


message 21: by Alison (new)

Alison "Imagine a ruin so strange, it must never have happened."
--The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver


message 22: by Catherine (new)

Catherine Héctor wrote: "Contusions wrote: ""Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.""

The best beginning ..."


Yes,, I love this one too (although Owen Meany is my fave)


message 23: by Chuck (new)

Chuck O'donnell First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.
Something Wicked This way Comes - Ray Bradbury


message 24: by Ola (new)

Ola Jonsson "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
-- Neuromancer, William Gibson.


message 25: by Goru (new)

Goru Chagol 'As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.' Metamorphosis- Kafka


message 26: by Ravija (new)

Ravija Srivastava "Life is difficult" -The Road Less Travelled by M Scott Peck

The blatant truth sets the mood.


message 27: by Goru (new)

Goru Chagol The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there. —L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between.


message 28: by N.J. (new)

N.J. Ramsden "Should I have taken the false teeth?" - Robertson Davies, The Cunning Man.

My favourite, bar none.


message 29: by Riaz (new)

Riaz Mulla 'What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?' - Erich Segal, Love Story


message 30: by Susan (new)

Susan where is the first line of "the great gatsby"?it is wonderful!
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.”


message 31: by [deleted user] (new)

1. Rebecca
2. Pride and prejudice
3. Gone with the wind


message 32: by Margaret (new)

Margaret Simms I have just returned from a visit to my landlord-the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. Emily Bronte Wuthering Heights.


message 33: by Richard (new)

Richard "No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream."-Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House.

And acutally, the entire first paragraph is just masterful: "Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone."


message 34: by Jane (new)

Jane Call me Ishmael. Moby-Dick; or, The Whale / Herman Melville

Today, Maman died. The Stranger / Albert Camus


message 35: by Savannah (last edited May 18, 2015 10:17AM) (new)

Savannah "West of Pearl Harbor, he drove along the Farrington Highway past fields of sugar cane, dark green in the moonlight." Micro

Micro by Michael Crichton


Brittain *Needs a Nap and a Drink* "From a little after two o'clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that — a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them." - Absalom, Absalom! William Faulkner


message 37: by Alexandra (new)

Alexandra Al Contusions wrote: ""Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.""
I was just thinkinng of that one! :)


message 38: by Becky (new)

Becky Norman "While Pearl Tull was dying, a funny thought occurred to her."
~Anne Tyler, Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant

And to continue:
"It twitched her lips and rustled her breath, and she felt her son lean forward from where he kept watch by her bed. 'Get...' she told him. 'You should have got...'
"You should have got an extra mother, was what she meant to say, the way we started extra children after the first child fell so ill."


message 39: by Jason (new)

Jason Murphy Some other good ones:

"Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting." William Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

"All children, except one, grow up." J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan


message 40: by Becky (new)

Becky Norman Oh! Or this one:
"You better not never tell nobody but God."
~Alice Walker, The Color Purple


message 41: by Aadhu (new)

Aadhu Jessica wrote: ""All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy"


That's also my favourite first line! :)


message 42: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Cushman Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts: "IT TOOK ME a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."


message 43: by Victoria (new)

Victoria I love how the first line of The Gunslinger (book 1), is also the last line of The Dark Tower (book 7)!


message 44: by Victoria (new)

Victoria "The first time I read the ad, I choked and cursed and spat and threw the paper to the floor." -Ishmael by Daniel Quinn


Lynne - The Book Squirrel I did two things on my 75th birthday, visited my wife's grave and joined the Army.

Old Man's War by John Scalzi


message 46: by D.G. (new)

D.G. Oh so many good ones! But Anna Karenina should have made it. :)

It seems P&P and Harry Potter makes it to almost every list that GR is putting together here! hahahaha


message 47: by Nina (new)

Nina Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested. —Franz Kafka, The Trial

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. —Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

:)


message 48: by Jerrod Kay (new)

Jerrod Kay To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.- John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath


message 49: by Amanda (new)

Amanda Nineofthirteen "In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had.""


Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Great picks.

I always remembered the first lines of Rebecca and The Gunslinger, so glad to see they are in the first two slots.


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