1.09.2009

First Lines

I picked up a new book the other day, read the first line, and then burst out laughing. This first, and immediate, reaction to the first line got me thinking about first lines of books. Some authors present ultra-memorable first lines like this one from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice:

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

I love lines like this that bring a smile and immediately let you know what is in store for you if you continue on with the book.

Other authors don't seem to go in much for the memorable first line thereby masking for just a little while their writing brilliance such as this one from Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo:

"On the 24th of February, 1815, the watch-tower of Notre-Dame de la Garde signalled the arrival of the three-master Pharaon, from Smyrna, Trieste, and Naples."

And still others write first lines whose significance is masked until you go back to read the book for a second time such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird:

"When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

I like authors like Jane Austen that give us that memorable first line. To me it is a bit like taking that first sip of a flavored hot chocolate: You don't exactly know what to expect, but on savoring that first delicious sip you smile and then go back for more.

Apart from giving me a craving for some yummy hot chocolate, all this talk about first lines has prompted me to create for you a little quiz that I will use all my creativity to call "Name that Book." I will provide for you 10 first lines and we will see just how savvy a book reader you are (meaning, of course, how savvy you are with some of my favorite books). No cheating, though. You know it or you don't. Don't go Googling it. I'll put up the answers next week. Of course don't feel like you need to know all of them to play along. Here we go:

1. The early summer sky was the color of cat vomit.

2. It was a dark and stormy night.

3. When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.

4. Before Batsheva moved to Memphis, our community was the safest place on earth, close, small, held together like a carefully crocheted sweater.

5. The boy's name was Santiago.

6. Ugh. The last thing on earth I feel physically, emotionally or mentally equipped to do is drive to Una and Geoffrey Alconbury's New Year's Day Turkey Curry Buffet in Grafton Underwood.

7. My Father had a face that could stop a clock.

8. Holly held the blue cotton sweater to her face and the familiar smell immediately struck her, an overwhelming grief knotting her stomach and pulling at her heart.

9. The little old kitchen had quieted down from the bustle and confusion of midday, and now, with its afternoon manners on, presented a holiday aspect that, as the principal room in the brown house, it was eminently proper it should have.

10. Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much."

5 comments:

Nemesis said...

Ugh, some of these are so on the tip of my tongue and the urge to Google is killing me. But I will resist. Here are the ones I know for sure.

6. Bridget Jones' Diary

7. The Eyre Affair

10. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

Wow. I suck.

Jenny said...

I don't have time for googling. I barely have time to be here... HOWEVER, I feel like I ought to know what #s 2,3 5, and 10 are. I knew 10. Harry Potter no question. LOVED that series. 5. is that classic Old Man and the Sea book (right?) Is 2. something Shakespeare-ish? Number 5 makes me think of that book about Bees--I think it's called "The Secret Life of Bees." I liked that book, but I might be confusing that first line with something else. I'm not impressing myself with my lack of literary memory. Thanks for letting me play.

Allyson said...

Sad to say, I only know 1 of these and that is number 10....which was easy.

Oh how I dislike reading, I know your gasping....take a deep breath....I wish I loved it, I just don't!

chosha said...

I only knew 6 and 10, though there are at least two others I'm sure I've read before. Just don't know where.

I love the first line of Neil Gaiman's latest offering (The Graveyard Book): 'There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.' Bam, you're there...and nervous.

Yankee Girl said...

Nem--very good.

Jenny--I was thinking number 3 sounded a bit like The Secret Life of Bees.

Allyson--I still love you.

Chosha--I love that first line. I'm going to have to check that book out.