So much responsibility rests on a first sentence.
When seeking a good read, I may pull a book off a shelf based on a recommendation, or because a creative title calls out. Sometimes an unexpected graphic from the cover forces me to pause, or a brief summary written by a bookstore owner entices. But once I’m holding the thing in my hands, the first line had better vacuum me in like an Electrolux or I tuck it back with its brothers. There are too many good books out there to waste time wading into a story.
That thought occurred to me yesterday at the library, when I put down one novel on my TBR list because I hated the first sentence, but then picked up a different book, because the initial words compelled me. With that in mind, this morning, I conducted an experiment:
Taking ten books from our family room shelf today, I read each first sentence, which I’ve include below. Some are brief, some are longer then I expected; each has their own style, but in all cases, the words raised questions, made me ask, "What’s next?" and flooded me with a compelling need to know.
Here is the sampling:
“If the earth were flat, New Zealand would have fallen off a long time ago, it’s that far from Ireland. Leon Uris, Redemption
"She heard a knocking, and then a dog barking." The Pilot’s Wife, Anita Schreve
"Women on their own run in Alice’s Family." Pigs in Heaven, Barbara Kingsolver
“At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew in circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.” The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd
“Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.” The Sun also Rises, Ernest Hemingway
“The Senior Partner studied the resume for the hundredth time and again found nothing he disliked about Mitchell Y. McDeere, at least not on paper." The Firm, John Grisham
“Mama left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.” Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Beth Hoffman
Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. Gone with the Wind; Margaret Mitchell
“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. A Prayer for Owen Meany, John Irving
“Caney switched on the light over his bed and reached for the last of last night’s coffee…one cold oily swallow at the bottom of a chipped stoneware mug.” The Honk and Holler Opening Soon, Billie Letts.
Oh, and here’s the one I haven’t read; the first sentence from the book I selected yesterday, in place of one on my list:
“Now that I have died, I see all and know all and there is nothing I can do about it.” The Other Side of Air, Jeanne Braselton. See why I checked it out?
What’s the first line of your favorite book?