The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Monday, 11 March 2013

Opening Lines from your Favourite Books

There is a lot online about Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice at the moment with 2013 being it's 200th anniversary. The first line from this book,
 “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
must be one of the most well known and quoted beginnings to any book. Consequently an article I found in the Telegraph, called 30 great opening lines in literature, including this and many other great classics caught my eye. It is great fun to read with many great book openers, from F Scott Fitzgerald to Franz Kafka included.
Anyway it got me thinking about my own favourites and I began a frenzy of ripping books off my shelves and taking a look, this blog post in mind. There were many smiles and reminiscences along the way, and a heap of rejections from books I love dearly, like American Pastoral by Philip Roth - 'The Swede.' That was it. From a writer who is famous for sentences that go on for days. Then there was East of Eden by John Steinback - 'The Salinas Valley is in Northern California.' Ok. Don't let these lines put you off however, these are great books and in context these first lines are crucial, but there were others more fascinating as an introduction that I wanted to share. Their front covers are pictured above.

So here are 10 opening lines from my favourite reads...

Precious Bane by Mary Webb
"It was at a love-spinning that I saw Kester first"

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
"There was no possibility of taking a walk that day."

The Mists of Avalon by Marion Bradley
"Even in high summer, Tintagel was a haunted place; Igraine, Lady of Duke Gorlois, looked out over the sea from the head-land."

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
"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 Passion by Jeanette Winterson
"It was Napoleon who had such a passion for chicken that he kept his chefs working around the clock."

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe by Carson McCullers
"The town itself is dreary; not much is there except the cotton-mill, the two-room houses where the workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two coloured windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long."

Germinal by Emile Zola
"Crossing the open plain, wading through the thick, dark ink of a starless night, a solitary figure followed the highway from Marchiennes to Montsou, which cut its paved pathway straight through ten kilometres of beet fields."

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
"When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun."

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
"Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns."  

The Blue Fox by Sjon
"Blue Foxes are so curiously like stones that it is a matter for wonder."  

Which ones would you choose?
I really enjoyed finding these and there were so many that I may do a sequal in a few months. It was refreshing to concentrate on the one sentence, some long forgotten, or even paid little attention to in the wake of the rest of the book. Some surprised me, others were like a microscopic insight on what is to come. Many made me smile. Retrospect enabled me to appreciate them in a particular way. Would any that are unfamiliar inspire you to look out for the book?

Its been ages since I have taken part in a good meme, so if this has inspired you to look out your own first-liners consider yourself memed, and let me know so I can share yours.

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