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First Lines Of Five Of My Favorite Books

February 3, 2014

Joy School by Elizabeth Berg     Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson    Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell     Embers by Sandor Marai     The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

After my post last week, I still have the first lines of great novels on my mind.

Tonight, I went through two shelves of my books and took from them five of my favorite books. These are not my top five favorite books – just a sampling of books I really enjoyed and that I keep nearby. I’ve read three of them more than once and expect that I might read all of them again.

I was kind of curious to see what the first lines of these books are. So, in no particular order, here are the first lines of the five books. Let’s see if we see anything notable about any of them. I welcome your comments.

1) The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
“At night I would lie in bed and watch the show, how bees squeezed through the cracks of my bedroom wall and flew circles around the room, making that propeller sound, a high-pitched zzzzzz that hummed along my skin.”

2) Embers by Sandor Marai (translation by Carol Brown Janeway)
“In the morning, the old general spent a considerable time in the wine cellars with his winegrower inspecting two casks of wine that had begun to ferment.”

3) Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Thursday, 7th November
Beyond the Indian hamlet, upon a forlorn strand, I happened on a trail of recent footprints.”

4) Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson
“Our house is old, and noisy, and full.”

5) Joy School by Elizabeth Berg
“The housekeeper is ironing and I am lying on the floor beside her, trying to secretly look up her dress.”

I’m beginning to think that the first line of a book doesn’t make the book memorable, but that we are drawn to the first lines of memorable books. The memorableness comes first, the attachment to the first line comes afterwards.

I know that when I finish a book I have greatly enjoyed, I immediately go to the first page and begin reading it again. I think it’s on that return to the first page that the opening of the book, and the first line, becomes striking.

Each of the opening lines above has far greater meaning to me now that I know the whole of the book, than the lines did when I first read them.


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