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Famous Incipit Lines (I learned that word from Wikipedia)

The most famous first line of a novel was penned by Victorian Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton. “It was a dark and stormy night” led off his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. Maili offers up the four reasons why first lines are important:

Reason 1: it’s usually the fastest way to determine whether I would enjoy the book.

Reason 2: I think an opening line can be helpful as it can quickly set a mood or expectation of what to come.

Reason 3: a good opening line can make me appreciate how well an author manipulates the language.

Reason 4: some can be so outrageous that I can’t help but read on. Most times it will become clear that it’s not what it really is, which makes me appreciate the author’s wit.

Of course, some great books have terrible opening lines and some awful book have truly memorable ones. Once in a while, some authors tried too hard. I think simplicity works best. Here’s a selection of opening lines that got me to buy a copy:

  • My mother was the village whore and I loved her very much. Pigs Don’t Fly – Mary Brown
  • He liked radical politics and had a fondness for chocolate. Flowers from the Storm – Laura Kinsale
  • Penitence Hurd and the plague arrived in London on the same day. The Vizard Mask – Diana Norman
  • Kathy Allison Carter was locked in a staredown with a sousaphone. The Golden Touch – Robin James
  • On the twelfth of June in the year seventeen sixty seven, I awoke in ditch in Derbyshire and thought I was dying. Playing the Jack – Mary Brown
  • He had a pair of queens, but she had cleavage. The Gambler – Lois Geiman
  • I fell in love with Darius Wentworth when I was twelve. Come Be My Love – Diana Brown
  • Have you ever drunk vodka at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning? Neither had Frankie, but she was about to. Going La La – Alexandra Potter
  • "Come out, Mr. Winslow." Archer stepped out from the stairwell onto the dark tenement roof. "It’s your time to die." Night Falls Darkly – Kim Lenox
  • I told the insurance company I was sleeping when the house blew up. Madame Mirabou’s School of Love – Barbara Samuel
  • Treason… The word was a soft incessant hiss in Raphael Fletcher’s mind. Heart of Deception – Taylor Chase
  • Sometimes, when the wind was just right, she could hear the blues. In the Midnight Rain – Ruth Wind (Barbara Samuel)
  • Maggie Slade realized three things simultaneously: Cobra was drunk, he was angry, and he was going to rape her. The Daughter – Jasmine Cresswell
  • "I should very much like to see your quim." Let Me Be the One – Jo Goodman
  • It was well known around Russellville, Alabama, that Tommy Lee Gentry drove like a rebellious seventeen-year-old, drank like a parolee fresh out, and whored like a lumberjack at the first spring thaw. The Hellion – LaVyrle Spencer
  • It was hell being a hero. Seize the Fire – Laura Kinsale
  • To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor. Silent in the Grave – Deanna Raybourne
  • "What a beautiful cock!" she murmured under her breath. The Pirate and the Pagan – Virginia Henley

Lack of a good opening line probably won’t make me stop reading the book but it could get me to start and it could get me to continue on.   How much do you value opening lines? Would a good opening line influence your decision to read on? Please quote your favourite opening lines if you have any.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

54 Comments

  1. Marianne McA
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 04:50:03

    One that sold me the book:

    ‘I was fifteen when I first met Sherlock Holmes, fifteen with my nose in a book as I walked the Sussex Downs, and nearly stepped on him.’

    Laurie R King ‘The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.’

    And I think Pratchett does good endings & beginnings, though they might fall in to your ‘tries too hard’ category.

    ‘The rumour spread through the city like wildfire (which had quite often spread through Ankh-Morpok since it’s citizens had learned the words ‘life insurance’).

    Terry Pratchett ‘The Truth’.

    And, since the book was mentioned in the last thread:

    The pipe under the sink was leaking again. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that Nick kept his favourite sword under the sink.

    Sarah Rees Brennan ‘The Demon’s Lexicon’.

    I could play this game for hours…

    Of your selection, five of them would have grabbed my attention (and four of those five are from books I have read), but four would have made me put the book back on the shelf straight away.

    Makes me think that if you have an attention-grabbing first line, it does need to reflect the tone of the book properly – because while they do sell books, the flip side of that immediate impact is that they can also instantly lose you a reader.

  2. rebyj
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 05:10:15

    I can think of one instance where the first line caused me to buy a book. Because my honey is disabled, I was pushing him in his wheelchair to shop in Davis Kidd. He was in the Sci Fi / Fantasy section (which up till then I never shopped in) and while he browsed I happened to pick up Kushiel’s Dart because of the cover. I open it up and the first line grabbed me..

    “Lest anyone should suppose that I am a cuckoo’s child, got on the wrong side of the blanket by lusty peasant stock and sold into indenture in a shortfallen season, I may say that I am House-born and reared in the Night Court proper, for all the good it did me.”

    As soon as I read that line I knew I could settle down and enjoy a story being told. And I was right! Everyone knows I’m a big fan of Jacqueline Carey’s work, and that was the very beginning. Circa… 2003 or 2004 I think.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 05:21:20

    ““Lymond is back.” It was known soon after the Sea-Catte reached Scotland from Campvere with an illicit cargo and a man she should not have carried.” And we’re off! The first line of “The Game of Kings” by Dorothy Dunnett. It thrills me reading it, even now.

    “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier.

    The Jo Goodman quote actually made me put the book down! I read one of her others, instead.

    “London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor
    sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As
    much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from
    the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a
    Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine
    lizard up Holborn Hill.” Sheer genius. He puts you right there.

    “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in
    its own way.” Anna Karenina, Tolstoy.

    Not doing Pride and Prejudice. Everybody knows that one.

    The Kinsale ones – too right.

    “This is ridiculous!” Clutching her purse so tightly her knuckles were white, the woman glared across the desk at the school principal. “He said he didn’t touch the hamster and my child doesn’t lie.” Linda Howard, “Mr. Perfect.”

    “On an April evening in 1832, with a shawl wrapped around her abundant auburn hair, Ellen O’Casey ducked out of the cold on the Whitechapel Road in East London and into the tradesman’s entrance of the Angel and Crown.” – Jean Fullerton “No Cure For Love.” Not the flashiest opening sentence, but it does its job and draws you right in.

  4. Lynz
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 05:57:52

    I love this topic! Romance Bandits recently covered it, too. The one from Silent in the Grave is probably my all-time favourite.

    I’m also quite fond of: “The day Kevin Tucker nearly killed her, Molly Sommerville swore off unrequited love forever.” It’s from This Heart of Mine and if not for it, I would never have read the book.

    Looking at both of those, it seems you need to mention death in your opening to get me really interested in your book. Hmm, I suppose I’m more morbid than I knew. Though five of the ones from the selection really caught my eye, and only one was the Raybourne. But since the other four involve the plague, drinking, rape, and hell, I suppose I’m back to being morbid, after all.

  5. Michelle
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 06:11:18

    “There were crimson roses on the bench; they looked like splashes of blood” Dorothy Sayers’ Strong Poison

    “I didn’t know how long I had been in the King’s prison” Megan Whalen Turner’s The Thief

  6. Sami
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 06:23:12

    This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and realised she’d had enough Dirty Weekend, Helen Zahavi. Scary, dark, thought provoking book.

    I basically blew my university days in the pursuit of one girl Zig Zag Street, Nick Earls. Very funny Australian writer.

    My desert-island, all-time , top five most memorable split-ups, in chronological order:

    1) Alison Ashworth

    2) Penny Hardwick

    3) Jackie Allen

    4) Charlie Nicholson

    5) Sarah Kendrew.

    High Fidelity, Nick Hornby (who inspired the various top fives I occasionally list on my blog)

    Love a good first line, but I won’t toss a book aside if the first line’s not good. I give a little more of a chance than that. First chapter, at least.

  7. Toddson
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 06:45:26

    Classics:

    Call me Ishmael (Moby Dick)

    He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. (Scaramouche)

    Sometimes a good opening line pulls me in, sometimes I’ll check further back to see how the writing goes. I can’t remember ever buying a book because I liked the opening line.

  8. joanne
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 06:46:25

    @Lynne Connolly: “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” was what got me to read gothics which got me to read gothic romances which got me to read romances which got me to a 2 bazillion dollar hobby. I’ll always be grateful to that author.

    My favorite first line: It wasn’t every day a guy saw a headless beaver marching down the side of a road, not even in Dean Robillard’s larger-than-life world. “Son of a …..”. NATURAL BORN CHARMER by SUSAN ELIZABETH PHILLIPS

    I Love this thread! I Hate going to work now.

  9. Mireya
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 06:49:57

    I never notice first lines. *shrug* The only one I would recognize is the first line in Rebecca, which someone else already cited. Details are not my thing, so I tend to remember an overall “feel” from a book, but not specific words.

  10. Mary Blayney
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 07:07:35

    How about this one from Bourne’s SPYMASTER’S LADY: She was willing to die, of course, but she had not planned to do it so soon….
    It goes on but it was the ‘of course’ that got me.

    And Dickens opening paragraph from THE TALE OF TWO CITIES It was the best of times. It was the worst of times…..has to be on the all time list of great opening lines for conveying mood and truth.

  11. jmc
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 07:19:54

    I love the Raybourne line.

    Some of my other favorites:

    Summer, that vicious green bitch, flexed her sweaty muscles and flattened Innocence, Mississippi. Carnal Innocence by Nora Roberts

    I didn’t realize he was a werewolf at first. Moon Called by Patricia Briggs

    It was a dumb thing to do but it wasn’t that dumb. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. (Of course, this line from a bit further in also sticks with me as a reader: I never heard them coming. Of course you don’t, when they’re vampires.)

  12. Pamela Turner
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 07:40:03

    A couple of my favorites:

    “I suppose that my mother could have been a witch if she had chosen to.” (Mary Stewart – Thornyhold)

    “When Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” (Kafka – “The Metamorphosis”)

    I know there’s more but I’ve only had one cup of coffee and my brain is running on three cylinders, all in reverse. :-)

  13. Leslie Kelly-Parrish
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 07:47:21

    “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice–not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

    The opening line from my all-time favorite book, A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving.

  14. reader
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 07:47:52

    I really don’t get hooked by first lines. In fact, sometimes I’ve noticed authors will work very hard on some unique or original or just plain odd opening line, but the rest of the first chapter doesn’t match…which is a bigger mistake than not having a first line that ‘grabs’ you.

    However, I have a theory that there are people who love quotes…they add them to their sig lines, post them in their cubicle, can cite quotes or lines of poetry which have deep meaning to them, etc. These are the kind of people I think are more likely to look for ‘good’ opening lines in books.

    I go for the overall feeling I get when I read the first few pages. Sometimes I will give a book a chapter or two before I decide if it’s for me. The first line of a book doesn’t always equal a good story.

  15. Christine Rimmer
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 08:26:02

    Oooo. First lines. Great topic. Of yours, Jane, I especially love the opening of The Hellion. Fabulous line. And yes, I have been hooked on a book from the first line more than once. And I do find that first lines are good clue to how the book is going to work for me.

    Here are a few of my favorites:

    “All Kevin Harmon wanted was a beer, a burger and a bed-‘in that order.” Susan Mallery, Completely Smitten

    “After nearly a quarter of a century of marriage, Richie Meyers, my husband, told me to call him Rick.” Susan Isaacs, After All These Years

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice–yeah, everybody knows it. Because it’s great!

    “We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.” John D. MacDonald, Darker than Amber

    “I WILL NOT drink more than fourteen alcohol units a week.” Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones's Diary

    “Time to die, Birthday Bitch.” Tami Hoag, Guilty As Sin

  16. cecilia
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 08:26:38

    I’m not really into first lines. I don’t care about a hook opening – some of the most powerful books I’ve read have very quiet and/or ordinary openings. Of these great lines mentioned here (apart from the super-famous Melville and Tolstoy ones, of course) – I’ve read a bunch of these books, and none of the first lines stayed with me. I guess I’m with the people that are more into the big picture.

  17. Cathy
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 08:35:21

    “Who’s there?” – Hamlet

    I never understood the significance of the first line until my teacher explained everything that “Who’s there?” conveys. There are tons of great first lines out there (“It is a truth universally acknowledged…” is a favorite), but nothing matches Hamelt for me.

  18. Teddypig
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 08:49:59

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

    We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.
    Hunter S. Thompson ~ Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas

    The regular early morning yell of horror was the sound of Arthur Dent waking up and suddenly remembering where he was.
    Douglas Adams ~ Life, The Universe, And Everything

  19. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 09:20:57

    I seem to have different expectation for different genres . . . in Romance, opening lines that are in omniscient POV tend to turn me off. In other genres I'm more forgiving, though I still strongly prefer to be grounded in a specific POV right from the get-go.

  20. Moriah Jovan
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 09:32:27

    @cecilia:

    I don't care about a hook opening – some of the most powerful books I've read have very quiet and/or ordinary openings.

    Me too.

    A) I buy on blurb exclusively and never flip through the book.

    B) The first line would be wasted on me until I finished the book. And even then, it might still be wasted.

  21. Tumperkin
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 09:58:34

    The lack of great opening line doesn’t bother me but if you get one, it’s a nice bonus and yes, I have bought books on the strength of opening lines. Also, I have a personal preference for first lines that don’t set out lots of details about one of the protaganists – strikes me as a lazy e.g. Jonathan Brown, the Fourth Earl of Glamorgan swept back his coal black hair from his forehead and narrowed his piercing blue eyes at the red-haired woman standing before him. I prefer a teaser, something to draw me in, something that makes me think, I want to learn more.

    And I still love, more than twenty years since I first read it:

    It happened that green and crazy summer when Frankie was twelve years old. This was the summer when for a long time she had not been a member. She belonged to no club and was a member of nothing in the world.
    The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers.

  22. Sherry Thomas
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:00:19

    I have a mostly written book that starts with “It was a dark and stormy night” and ends with “Reader, I married him.”

    Nobody has ever accused me of not being cheeky. :-)

    And yes, of course it is a contemporary.

  23. Darlynne
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:14:27

    I also love the openings of Natural Born Charmer, Silent in the Grave, and Rebecca. One that absolutely grabbed me and was the sole, initial reason for buying the book was this from Martin Cruz Smith’s Rose:

    “The most beautiful women in the world were African. ”

    The first three or so paragraphs, in fact, are stunning.

  24. ASable
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:33:39

    “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.” ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It sounds even better in Spanish.

  25. KimJT
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:42:08

    De-lurking to add…

    A great first line will sometimes get me to read a book that I wasn't sure about. Case in point…my best friend gave me The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. I thought it was an okay read. A couple of years later I was at B&N and saw another book by him called Middlesex. I had my doubts, but thought I'd read a few pages to see if it was worth borrowing from the library. I read the first line, closed the book, bought it, then stayed up all night reading it. It's one of my favorites.

    “I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

  26. hapax
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:44:56

    My most favoritest opening line evah: “The man who was not Terence O’Grady came quietly.” AGENT OF CHANGE, by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller.

    Of course it’s also one of my favoritest books evah, so that doesn’t hurt.

  27. Rowan
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:46:46

    Usually his lines involve the weather as a portent, but the first line of this book lives on forever as my Very Most Favorite Ever. (yes, with capitals)

    It was just past midday, not long before the third summons to prayer, that Ammar ibn Khairan passed through the Gate of the Bells and entered the palace of Al-Fontina in Silvenes to kill the last of the khalifs of Al-Rassan.

    Guy Gavriel Kay, The Lions of Al-Rassan:

  28. Renee
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 10:52:14

    Two of my favorites are:

    I'd been waiting for the vampire for years when he walked into the bar.
    -‘from Dead Until Dark, Southern Vampire series, book 1 by Charlaine Harris

    I have to.
    I've been fighting it all night. I'm going to lose. My battle is as futile as a woman feeling the first pangs of labor and deciding it's an inconvenient time to give birth. Nature wins out. It always does.

    -‘from Bitten, Women of the Otherworld series, book 1 by Kelley Armstrong

  29. Janine
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 11:01:44

    Not exactly first lines alone, but openings:

    “Sunfall. Shadows moving slow across the bar on the window. Wooden bar. The guard nailed it there, the day after he tried to escape.

    Escape. Run fast and quiet, like a wolf. Run home.

    The professor said he must think in words, not pictures. Sunfall, wolf, home. Bar.”

    — Patricia Gaffney, Wild at Heart

    “Sebastien knew Marie du Gard slightly better than her father realized. Sebastien had slept with her once.”

    Judy Cuevas (Judith Ivory), Dance.

    “Cambourne House, Calcutta
    15 October, 1800

    My dear Cousin Charles,

    I disturb your peace at my father’s behest. He wishes me to investigate the progress of a lawsuit concerning the proper location of a hedgerow. Knowing and caring nothing of this hedgerow except that it languishes, properly or improperly, in Shropshire, I beg you will do me the favor of not replying to this inquiry.”

    Laura Kinsale, My Sweet Folly

  30. ReacherFan
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 11:32:07

    The single best opening line I read this year is Silent in the Grave:

    To say I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching on the floor.

    Too bad the book didn’t live up to it.

  31. Tessa Dare
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 11:42:58

    I love the first line of Fahrenheit 451:

    “It was a pleasure to burn.”

  32. Lusty Reader
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 12:32:18

    @ Mireya

    Details are not my thing, so I tend to remember an overall “feel” from a book, but not specific words.

    and @ reader

    I have a theory that there are people who love quotes…they add them to their sig lines, post them in their cubicle, can cite quotes or lines of poetry which have deep meaning to them, etc. These are the kind of people I think are more likely to look for ‘good' opening lines in books.

    Totally agree with both of you, I rarely remember first lines and go by “overall feel”. I always WANT TO BE that person who remembers quotes, and will randomly collect them, but never take that leap to really remember them or post them places.

  33. nekobawt
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 12:55:14

    This is the story of Bella, who woke up one morning and realised she'd had enough.

    i can’t help but think the “twilight” saga would have been more interesting if that had been the first line….

  34. Caligi
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 13:02:34

    “Being dead didn’t make Jack Mercy less of a son of a bitch.” Montana Sky Nora Roberts

    Haven’t read the book, so the book may suck, but that’s a great first line.

    I also love the beginning of Pratchett’s Going Postal:

    “They say that the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates a man’s mind wonderfully; unfortunately, what the mind inevitably concentrates on is that, in the morning, it is in a body that is going to be hanged.”

  35. reader
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 14:16:05

    Lusty Reader,

    I go one step further…I really don’t *want* to be a quotes person. In fact, I kind of roll my eyes when someone spouts off quotes. For some reason, it comes off as pretentious…or maybe that’s b/c it reminds me of my ex-husband who loved quotes and self-help books, but never took any of it to heart.

    LOL.

  36. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 15:30:50

    Sometimes you read a book so often that you just know how it starts. Or the beginning is so memorable it sticks. There’s nothing pretentious about holding things that you love in your memory. Of the quotes I gave above, I had to look up two of them – the last two. The last book is a recent favorite, and I loved it.
    Of course a good book doesn’t have to have a quotable opening, but not having one doesn’t make it a good book, either. Quoting the beginning of your favorite books doesn’t make them quotable, either.

  37. Srsly...
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 17:57:13

    This isn’t from a romance, but it is Anne Tyler.

    From: BACK WHEN WE WERE GROWNUPS

    “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.”

    I love all of her opening lines, but this is the best.

  38. Bonnie
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 18:09:03

    From Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm:

    “Throughout the night of Friday, September 7, 1900, Isaac Monroe Cline found himself waking to a persistent sense of something gone wrong”

    God that book was good.

    And from Nora Roberts’ Chesapeake Blue:

    “He was coming home.”

    Good stuff there.

    I now have goosebumps and need to reread them both. :D

  39. best first lines « Books to the Sky
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 18:09:40

    […] July 29, 2009 Filed under: Uncategorized — fshk @ 12:09 am Jane at Dear Author has a post up about first lines that pulled her into good romance novels. She lists a bunch. I bet you can think […]

  40. CD
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 18:59:55

    Call yourselves romance readers? How about:

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

    And this opening which introduced the world to Anita Blake's snarky voice and blew open the doors to what had been an obscure sub-genre:

    Willie McCoy had been a jerk before he died. His being dead didn’t change that.

    Some fantasy open liners that I like – not only because they are good but also because they are in line with the tone of the rest of the book and not just gimicky:

    – “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” from Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

    – “He came one late, wet spring, and brought the wide world back to my doorstep.”- Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb

    – “Locke Lamora's rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim's trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.” from The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

    And the immortal:
    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    As others have said, a good opening line doesn’t always make a good book and you often don’t remember them. The one that has managed to stick in my mind ever since I read it 15 years ago was this one from Orwell’s 1984:

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

  41. (Jān)
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 19:32:06

    This opening got me to read the book. That doesn’t happen often. Usually hooks turn me off.

    “Once, there were more of us. Once we roamed the skies unfettered, masters of the four winds. We chased the sun and devoured the moon, sprinkled across the heavens like fierce, relentless stars. That was our right and our destiny, and none could survive our bright-eyed devastation.”

    Shana Abe, The Dream Thief

  42. K. Z. Snow
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 22:31:57

    “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. 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.”

    ~ Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

    {{{shiver}}}

  43. Donna Kowalczyk
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 23:11:05

    I recently did an interview where I mentioned a favorite first line, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember the title of the book or even the author. The first line was, “What a beautiful cock!” LOL So thank you, Jane, now I can actually give the author credit. I may even have to find a copy and reread this one. :-)

  44. Bonnie B
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 23:38:47

    I haven’t read all the comments, so don’t know if this one was already mentioned … and technically it’s not the opening line of the book, because there is a prologue, but the opening line of the first chapter of Loretta Chase’s “Your Wicked Ways” reads:

    “Penises. Everywhere.”

    LOVED that book. ;p

    -‘ Bonz

  45. Bonnie B
    Jul 28, 2009 @ 23:42:53

    Technically it’s not the first sentence of the book (there’s a prologue), but the first line of the first CHAPTER of Loretta Chase’s “Your Scandalous Ways” reads:

    “Penises. Everywhere.”

    LOVE that book!

    -‘ Bonz

  46. Jennie
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 00:45:18

    “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.” ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It sounds even better in Spanish.

    I’ve loved this one for a while, and I haven’t even gotten around to reading the book yet. Someday soon.

    Lots of good ones here. I’ll have to think if I can find some that haven’t been mentioned.

    Might I ask the context of the Jo Goodman opening Jane cites? Enquiring minds, etc.

  47. medumb
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 02:24:18

    I enjoy first lines, and they can sometimes influence me in the bookshop when I am on the fence about a book. But realistically they do not play that major a part for me.
    Which is probably why the only first line I can think of is the dark and stormy night one. LOL

  48. shirley
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 18:27:45

    That last quote from “The Pirate and the Pagan”. OMG, sold me on the book, and Virginia Henley. I’ve been a fan ever since.

    A good opening line(or paragraph) is essential for me to buy. I don’t seem to have the patience anymore to slog through ten or twenty pages to determine if I’ll get the book or not.

    Though not romances specifically (both books do have romantic elements) these two opening lines have really stuck with me from the moment I picked the books up in the store:

    “Bartholomew Lampion was blinded at the age of three, when surgeons reluctantly removed his eyes to save him from a fast-spreading cancer, but although eyeless, Barty regained his sight when he was thirteen.” – “From The Corner Of His Eye”, Dean Koontz

    “My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the altar at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.” – “Odd Thomas”, Dean Koontz

    Koontz is hit and miss for me (though usually more hit than miss), but these two are absolutely stellar.

  49. Diane/Anonym2857
    Jul 29, 2009 @ 21:29:49

    I rarely look at the first page when I’m buying a book — Instead I generally rely on the author’s name, and the back and inside page blurbs.

    I do, however, look at the first page when I am selecting a book to read from my TBR pile. I’ll grab a few books, based on what looks interesting on the cover, read the blurbs, then if one of them hasn’t truly grabbed me, I’ll read the first page of each book and see which one calls my name at that point.

    Some of my favorites were already mentioned, but a few more would include:

    “Nothing moved. The pale dawn illuminated bare trees, barren fields and a ghost-white blanket of snow. The temperature hovered around zero; the windchill was twenty degrees below that. It hurt to breathe. Hell, it hurt to move. Tanner was punishing cold and punishing tired… and all for an owl.” Night of the Hunter, by Jennifer Greene

    “From the waist down, he was promising.” The Carpenter’s Lady, Billie Douglass/Barbara Delinsky

    “Just this morning, in The Land Where Monsters Live, all the monsters were sitting down to their favorite breakfast of cornflakes and bat’s wings.” A Rose for Maggie, Kathleen Korbel/Eileen Dreyer

    And then of course, there’s “Falling in love with a Catholic priest was not my smartest move.” in Kristan Kiggins’ Catch of the Day.

    Diane :o)

  50. Ros
    Jul 30, 2009 @ 03:42:26

    There was a hand in the darkness and it held a knife.

    I’d never read Neil Gaiman before and I’m not sure that I will again but the opening line of The Graveyard Book was the most captivating I’d seen in a long time and the book did not disappoint.

  51. Kristine
    Jul 30, 2009 @ 11:20:17

    One of my favorite opening lines from a book is from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD : “On the day they were going to kill him, Santiago Nasar got up at five-thirty in the morning to wait for the boat the bishop was coming in.”
    I had to read the book for school and I loved it.

  52. Maili
    Jul 30, 2009 @ 16:41:56

    Apologies to all. It wasn’t Jane but me who wrote this post, so those cited favourite opening lines are mine, not hers. Thanks, everyone, for sharing your favourites and opinions.

    @reader

    However, I have a theory that there are people who love quotes…they add them to their sig lines, post them in their cubicle, can cite quotes or lines of poetry which have deep meaning to them, etc. These are the kind of people I think are more likely to look for ‘good' opening lines in books.

    I think there’s a bit of truth in it. I’m not keen on poetry, but I do quote from films for a giggle, which proves your theory, I think.

    The first line of a book doesn’t always equal a good story.

    Of course not. :) There are some books on the list that I didn’t enjoy in the end, but I still appreciate those opening lines.

    @Jennie

    Might I ask the context of the Jo Goodman opening Jane cites? Enquiring minds, etc.

    I don’t know how to explain the context without spoiling it. It wasn’t stated to the heroine if that’s what makes you wonder.

  53. Liz
    Aug 02, 2009 @ 18:42:42

    My favorite line from a book ever is from “Ghee” by Robert V Aldrich.

    “The forest was quiet until it exploded.”

  54. Livingston
    Nov 08, 2009 @ 07:12:30

    any updates coming ???

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