Thursday, May 19, 2011

100 Best First Lines Of Novels (Of The Day)

Selections from top 100 list, as decided by the American Book Review, a nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University.

94. In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. – Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)

80. Justice? – You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law. – William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own (1994)

70. Francis Marion Tarwater’s uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up. – Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear it Away (1960)

67. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

65. You better not never tell nobody but God. – Alice Walker, The Color Purple (1982)

61. I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. – W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge (1944)

58. Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress. – George Eliot, Middlemarch (1872)

48. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea (1952)

47. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. – C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

45. I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. – Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome (1911)

41. The moment one learns English, complications set in. – Felipe Alfau, Chromos (1990)

30. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. – William Gibson, Neuromancer (1984)

29. Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. – Ha Jin, Waiting (1999)

26. 124 was spiteful. – Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987)

15. The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. Samuel Beckett, Murphy (1938)

9. 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. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

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

2. 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 (1813)

See the rest here.


  1. Cool list! #70 Flannery O'Connor's sentence is a long, drawn-out affair, isn't it. ha!

    #47 made me laugh too. I'm not sure anyone deserves to be given a name like that! :-D

  2. They forgot "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

    --Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, "Paul Clifford" (1830)

  3. I had to slog through Toni Morrison's "Beloved", one of the worst, most inane novels I ever had the misfortune being forced to read. And it was taught by a newly-minted PhD who insisted it was just the most wonderful,insightful, visionary novel ever. I think I wound up burning it when I was through and prayed for the souls of trees who gave up the paper to print such molestation of the English language.

  4. Nice. I love these. One of my faves is:
    Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.
    Slaughterhouse Five -Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (1969)

  5. Oooooh Lefty. That makes me want to read that next. I thought of a Vonnegut one, too:

    Everyone now knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.
    ~Sirens of Titan

  6. As much as I hate the novel (and the movie) I must admit, there is a certain beauty in the first line:

    53. It was a pleasure to burn. —Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953)



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