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The Best First Lines of Books, Ever!

The Best First Lines of Books, Ever!

By Beth Mishler

There’s nothing like a great opening line, particularly when it comes to literature. Very often the first words we read make the greatest impression; they can either pull us in or repel us. They can crack us up, or they can set the tone for a crazy/funky environment that we feel compelled to enter. Here are some of our faves:

Most Ominous and Foreboding First Line:

It's a tie!

“The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years—if it ever did end—began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.” Stephen King, IT

“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” Arthur C. Clarke, 2001 A Space Odyssey

King and Clarke wrote books that were very different kinds of scary. In King’s, children are tormented and haunted by a killer clown. In Clarke’s classic, the scary bad guy is a killer computer named HAL. While these books couldn’t be more different, their commonality lies in killer openers to set up their killers within.

Most Honest Opening Line:

“Thank you for buying this book.” Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out With Me?

Kaling’s stellar autobio is, as you can tell, fun and open from the get-go. Her writing makes this book feel more like an intimate conversation between friends than a tell-all. This makes for a fun—and rare—reading experience.

Best ‘We Ain’t in Kansas Anymore’ Opening Line:

Another tie!

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, 1984

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”  Douglas Adams, A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Both books feature realities/worlds that are futuristic and somewhat beyond our comprehension. And yet we’re immediately absorbed, largely due to Orwell’s innovativeness and Adams’ creative imagination, both of which are found in the very first words.

Best ‘Say What?’ Opening Line:

“When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets, Papa would say, ‘she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.’”  Katherine Dunn, Geek Love

This book isn’t well known, but it should be. Dunn has a rampant imagination, and she lets it sprint like a lemur and leap like a dolphin all throughout Geek Love. And, seriously, the word
"dreamlets?" More new, awesome words, please!

The Classic Opening Line:

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”

Love him or hate him, Holden Caulfield sure knows how to complain. And spot phonies. And destroy “Little Shirley Beans.”

The Sentimental Favorite Opening Line:

"The night that Max wore his wolf-suit and made mischief of one kind and another, his Mother called him 'WILD THING!' and Max said 'I'LL EAT YOU UP!' so he was sent to bed without eating anything." Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

The wild rumpus starts immediately in Sendak’s classic, and we would throw ourselves in front of a herd of wild beasts before we chose another book as our sentimental fave. This opening is too perfect.

The Master of the Opening Line:

“This is a tale of a meeting of two lonesome, skinny, fairly old white men on a planet which was dying fast.”  Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

“All this happened, more or less.” Kurt Vonnegut Slaughterhouse-Five

Vonnegut isn’t for everyone. He can be dry, sardonic, and entirely confusing. But he’s also smart, hilarious, and crazy-layered. His works often begin in medias res, so his openers have to get your attention. And they rarely fail to do just that.

What are your favorite opening lines from the books you’ve read?

Tags: horror, sci fi, quotes, literature, stephen king, kurt vonnegut, books-and-comics, arthur c. clarke, a catcher in the rye

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About the Author
Beth Mishler

Beth Mishler is a writer, producer, and pop culture connoisseur who has a weakness for the Whedonverse and all things sci-fi. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Beth currently lives in The Plains, Ohio, where she freelances, makes documentaries, and watches a kazillion hours of TV per week while anxiously awaiting the release of George R.R. Martin's next novel.

Wanna contact a writer or editor? Email contribute@sparknotes.com.