There are many adages about reading that I don’t really support. Top among is the idea that you can’t judge a book by its cover. There are plenty of great books that I discovered solely by glancing at covers. Some of my absolute favorite books ever also have some incredible covers. But the cover isn’t everything. Indeed, there are books I love with despicably boring covers. So how do I really pick a book? By reviews? No. By description on the back? Definitely not (the people that write those don’t even seem like they’ve read the book most of the time).
No, the very first thing I do with any book is crack it open and read the first line. You see, reading is a lot like food. That first taste will tell you everything you need to know. If I feel like have to drop everything and keep reading, if I feel physical pain at the thought of not devouring that entire novel right then and there, then I’m sold. I will be buying that book, and 9 times out of 10 I will love it. So, I thought I’d share the first lines from some of my favorite books.
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Aimee Bender
“It happened for the first time on a Tuesday afternoon, a warm spring day in the flatlands near Hollywood, a light breeze moving east from the ocean and stirring the black-eyed pansy petals newly planted in our flower boxes.”
The End of the Tether, Joseph Conrad
“For a long time after the course of the steamer Sofala had been altered for the land, the low swampy coast had retained its appearance of a mere smudge of darkness beyond a belt of glitter.”
The Shadow-Line, Joseph Conrad
“Only the young have such moments.”
How to Paint a Dead Man, Sarah Hall
“You aren’t feeling like yourself.”
The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern
“The man billed as Prospero the Enchanter receives a fair amount of correspondence via the theater office, but this is the first envelope addressed to him that contains a suicide note, and it is also the first to arrive carefully pinned to the coat of a five-year-old girl.”
State of Wonder, Anne Patchett
“The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.”
August Frost, Monique Roffey
“There’d always been a problem with the light.”
Yes, Joseph Conrad deserves two mentions, mostly because it illustrates that even with just a few words, one can be hooked. But you noticed that I said 9 times out of 10, right? That’s because this isn’t always foolproof. The next example has an excellent first line, but I didn’t end up liking the book all that much.
The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie
“In the day’s last light the glowing lake below the palace-city looked like a sea of molten gold.”
What are your favorite first lines?