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Classic Book Discussion > What is your favourite first line?

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message 1: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Some classic novels are instantly recognisable by their first line. Do you know this one, which is perhaps my favourite:

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

George Orwell - "1984"

Which is your favourite first line? Does it set the scene? Perhaps it indicates what is to follow. Or is it a profound statement, or a witticism?


message 2: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

Finnegans Wake


message 3: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Well it certainly sets the tone for the book, Elizabeth.

Does a first line usually make you want to read more? (I'm not sure that one did!)


message 4: by Kathy (last edited Nov 17, 2013 03:15PM) (new)

Kathy Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done. But as I advanced, I was aware that a change had come upon it. Nature had come into her own again, and little by little had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers, on and on while the poor thread that had once been our drive. And finally, there was Manderley - Manderley - secretive and silent. Time could not mar the perfect symmetry of those walls. Moonlight can play odd tricks upon the fancy, and suddenly it seemed to me that light came from the windows. And then a cloud came upon the moon and hovered an instant like a dark hand before a face. The illusion went with it. I looked upon a desolate shell, with no whisper of the past about its staring walls. We can never go back to Manderley again. That much is certain. But sometimes, in my dreams, I do go back to the strange days of my life which began for me in the south of France...

Love that paragraph. It certainly made me want to read on.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


message 5: by Michael (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) "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 by Jane Austen.

Because this line shows off Austen's wit, No one (except Mrs Bennet) acknowledges this. Men with large fortunes are often living a life of leisure and not even looking for a wife.


message 6: by Amber (new)

Amber (amberterminatorofgoodreads) I like the starting sentence in the graveyard book "There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife." It does set the scene in that neil gaiman book that something bad is about to happen.


message 7: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceypb) I think a lot of people know already but here they are again the immortal and profound words;

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.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

A surging, seething, murmuring crowd, of beings that are human only in name, for to the eye and ear they seem naught but savage creatures, animated by vile passions and by the lust of vengeance and of hate. The hour, some little time before sunset, and the place, the West Barricade, at the very spot where a decade later, a proud tyrant raised an undying monument to the nation's glory and his own vanity.
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emmuska Orczy

Yes, I only started it yesterday, but I was thinking about vetoing the coin's decision and going with another book until I read the opening lines. Now I'm hooked.


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael (knowledgelost) I forgot about If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

"You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino's new novel, If on a winter's night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, "No, I don't want to watch TV!" Raise your voice--they won't hear you otherwise--"I'm reading! I don't want to be disturbed!" Maybe they haven't heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: "I'm beginning to read Italo Calvino's new novel!" Or if you prefer, don't say anything; just hope they'll leave you alone."


message 10: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I love all these - and a few are so recognisable you don't even have to say where they are from. How about,

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Imagine your curiosity if this was your first encounter with the word "hobbit". Wouldn't you carry on?


message 11: by Faye (new)

Faye Tracey wrote: "I think a lot of people know already but here they are again the immortal and profound words;

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of fooli..."


I was about to post that myself, Tracey! That sentence alone is a masterpiece, let alone the rest of the book. :)


message 12: by LauraT (last edited Nov 19, 2013 02:53AM) (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments Jean wrote: "Some classic novels are instantly recognisable by their first line. Do you know this one, which is perhaps my favourite:

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


I've always wondered if you english mothertongue thought it strange. In Italy we commonly say "le tredici" meaning one o'clock p.m., but I've never heard it in England or USA


message 13: by LauraT (last edited Nov 19, 2013 02:53AM) (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments My two favourite starting lines are from very different books; the first id of my favourite book ever: "IT is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife" - I don't think I need to say from which book it's taken!
The other from an italian novel that I didn't like that much (La ragazza di Bube by Carlo Cassola) , but I find the opening line incredibly good: "Mara sbadigliò" (Mara yawned): to start a story with a yawn!!!


message 14: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments Also Proust's "Per lungo tempo sono andato a letto presto la sera" (I've gone to bed early for a long time) in Swann's Way it's not bad. I've always thought that De Niro's sentence in Once Upon a Time in America was a quote of it
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVqOJG...


message 15: by Pamela (new)

Pamela | 11 comments Kathy wrote: "Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamer..."

My favorite too! I wondered when I saw this posting whether someone would list Rebecca.


message 16: by Michael (new)

Michael Ray (mcray) These are all very good. One of my favorite first lines is from one of my favorite books:

How could the wind be so strong, so far inland, that cyclists coming into the town in the late afternoon looked more like sailors in peril?

That's from The Gate of Angels by Penelope Fitzgerald—an opening that very much violates Elmore Leonard's first rule of good writing, but Fitzgerald knew what she was doing.


message 17: by Michaelx (new)

Michaelx Fantastic opening line, Jean. Says so much about the rest of the book.

How about:

'One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible vermin'.
The Metamorphosis

And:

'The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel'.
Neuromancer


message 18: by Amber (new)

Amber (amberterminatorofgoodreads) I also like the first line from Little Women:"Christmas won't be Christmas without any presents," grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.


message 19: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) Amber - that does put you straight into the middle of a cosy family tale, doesn't it? Good for this time of year too...

Michael - you know I always thought the last word of that opening line was "cockroach", so it would be:

"One morning, when Gregor Samsa woke from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a horrible cockroach."

Now I look at the original it says "ungeheures Ungeziefer", literally "monstrous vermin", so your version is more correct! Does anybody have the Penguin Classic edition, (which is the one I read) to check whether my memory is playing tricks? It could be that the front cover was a picture of a cockroach and that's what I'm remembering. It does seem a punchier description to me...

Great first line anyway, Michael :)


message 20: by Amber (new)

Amber (amberterminatorofgoodreads) Yeah it does, Jean. ^_^ I posted the first line to Neil Gaiman's graveyard book earlier in the thread and it is a good line to start his story too.


message 21: by Holly (last edited Nov 28, 2013 01:43AM) (new)

Holly (hollycoulson) It's not exactly the first line, more like the first few lines. I just love how Zusak makes Death seem like a completely normal person. Must admit, The Book Thief is one of my favourite reads of this year...

'Here is a small fact: You are going to die. I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic, though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.'


message 22: by Bionic Jean (last edited Nov 28, 2013 02:56AM) (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I like the first line itself there Holly! Though I suppose it does not truly indicate what will follow unless you add a few more.

There's a first line I'm trying to remember, which comes from a James Herbert novel, "Nobody True". Although I did not care for the novel, the first line is a gem. I think it goes:

"I was not there when I died."


message 23: by Josefien (new)

Josefien Jean wrote: "I love all these - and a few are so recognisable you don't even have to say where they are from. How about,

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit."

Imagine your curiosity if this was your..."


I was thinking about that first line too!!


message 24: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) :D


message 25: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments Jean wrote: "There's a first line I'm trying to remember, which comes from a James Herbert novel, "Nobody True". Although I did not care for the novel, the first line is a gem. I think it goes:

"I was not there when I died." "


I LOVE this introduction line!!! It makes me want to read the book Jean!


message 26: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceypb) All children except one grow up.
The instantly identifiable opening line to the wonderful Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.
Re reading this for the first time since I was very young and it is a whole new 'kettle of fish'
Can't wait to write a review :)


message 27: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) I love this first line! As you say, Tracey, it's instantly identifiable - yet I couldn't remember it. So I looked at my copies of the book, which both have different opening sentences as they are old retellings, bought for the illustrations.

Is yours J M Barrie's own retelling of his play in story form? It just sounds so "classic"! (And if so, is the print normal size or (hopefully) bigger, as I'm tempted to ask Santa for it!!)


message 28: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) "Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."

Charles Dickens' wonderful "A Christmas Carol."


message 29: by LauraT (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments Quite a good one that Jean!


message 30: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (traceypb) Jean wrote: ""Marley was dead, to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that."

Charles Dickens' wonderful "A Christmas Carol.""


So that's your favorite!! :)


message 31: by Bionic Jean (new)

Bionic Jean (bionicjean) You got me Tracey!! ;)

A Christmas Carol is certainly my favourite book... and it's a pretty good opening line... but I still think my favourite first line has to be the Orwell. That is stunning to start with, whereas you only learn why the first line of "A Christmas Carol" is so important as you read a bit further :)


message 32: by عماد (new)

عماد العتيلي (emadreads) One of my favorite first lines is:
" I'm a sick man. I'm a malicious man. An unattractive man I am " - Notes From Underground.

Another first line I really love is:
"Let's go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky,
Like a patient, etherized upon a table" - Eliot, Prufrock.


message 33: by Roderick (new)

Roderick Vincent | 34 comments Emad wrote: "One of my favorite first lines is:
" I'm a sick man. I'm a malicious man. An unattractive man I am " - Notes From Underground.

Another first line I really love is:
"Let's go then, you and I,
When..."


Emad, that is a great one. How about another Dickens classic? "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..."


message 34: by عماد (new)

عماد العتيلي (emadreads) Wow. That is really good, Roderick. I like it.
Great choice :)


message 35: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Dare I to eat a peach?

Not an opening line,but seeing Prufrock made me remember it.


message 36: by Darlene (new)

Darlene LaCroix (tiernanogg) | 9 comments One of the most impressionable first lines for me came from a book more memorable for its last line.

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


message 37: by LauraT (last edited Mar 29, 2014 10:35AM) (new)

LauraT (laurata) | 114 comments Never read Raymond Chandler ...


message 38: by James (new)

James McCormick Tracey wrote: "I think a lot of people know already but here they are again the immortal and profound words;

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of fooli..."


I was debating whether to put this- maybe this one is TOO famous!


message 39: by Monique (new)

Monique (MoniqueHerden) | 4 comments One of my favourite opening lines in a novel would be:
'This is a story of what a Woman's patience can endure, and what a Man's resolution can achieve.'
- From: The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins


message 40: by Alice (last edited May 13, 2014 07:19PM) (new)

Alice Poon (alice_poon) I rather like the opening line of Anna Karenina:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."


message 41: by Beth (new)

Beth Some of my favorites:
"It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the Chaplain he fell madly in love with him."
Catch-22

"I, Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus This-that-and-the-other (for I shall not trouble you with all my titles) who was once, and not so long ago either, known to my friends and relatives and associates as 'Claudius the Idiot' or 'That Claudius' or 'Claudius the Stammerer' or 'Clau-Clau-Claudius' or at best as 'Poor Uncle Claudius' am now about to write this strange history of my life; starting from my earliest childhood and continuing year by year until I reach the point of fateful change where, some eight years ago, at the age of fifty-one, I found myself caught in what I may call the 'golden predicament' from which I have never since become disentangled."
I, Claudius

“Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain ponderous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping arch, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock."
Titus Groan (I don't love this book as much as a lot of its fans do, but the opening lines are something.)

“The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like sticky plaster-dust. (House-cleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn't, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn't have to be anything scary or unpleasant, especially in a cheerful household - magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself -- but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory.)”
Spindle's End


message 42: by James (new)

James McCormick I Claudius and Claudius the God- these are incredible, incredible books!!! In terms of historical fiction I have never read anything their equal (some critics state that the second book is inferior- I disagree)

BUT back to the question:
I love "Call meIshmael" (I really like Moby Dick but really couldn't endure all the Seatology)

James
@Jimbomcc69


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