A sort of meme thing about best first lines seems to be being passed around among litbloggers : Edward Champion (whom I found via this post on the subject by Bud Parr) seems to be the guy who kicked off the challenge in his search for:
... an opening sentence so utterly irresistible, something that is so unquestionably curious and so absolutely tantalizing that you, as a reader, simply must read the whole thing!And I, of course, am only too happy to pass the challenge on to you!
I think my favourite has to be the opening of Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and remember the pleasure with which I settled down to read it:
Hale knew they meant to murder him before he had been in Brighton three hours.The opening line of marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude is another classic:
Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
And then there's the audacity of Burgess in Earthly Powers :
It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.I love too the way that Katherine Mansfield begins some of her short stories as if she's picking up the threads of an earlier conversation, so that you feel invited into a confidence, which is a pretty neat trick, if you think about it. The Garden Party for example begins:
And after all the weather was ideal.
Etgar Keret's short short stories have irresistible first lines and this I think is a big part of the joy of reading him:
That night when the daemon came to take away his talent, he didn't whine or argue or put up a fuss. (From One Last story and That's It)If you want to waste some serious time here's a fun literary quiz about first lines, try this. (I scored 44 out of 66 which I don't think is too bad since most of it was guesswork!) And if you want even more, the American Book Review lists 100 Best First Lines from Novels here.
In Hell, they put me in a cauldron of boiling water. (From Katzenstein)
In June, after the plague of frogs, people began leaving the valley in droves. (From Plague of the Firstborn)
Dad wouldn't buy me a Bart Simpson doll. (Breaking the Pig)
Bud Parr points out, this pondering on favourite first lines is more than a little dangerous:
I find myself thinking about the great books I've read, thumbing through them, trying to resist dropping everything to re-read them. Should I pop open a bottle of wine?In my case I'm suddenly overcome with a terrible sadness for books once owned but lost along the way. Gaps in my collection that need to be filled.