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Great First Sentences

Written by Kirsten on May 19th, 2009

I am addicted to words, which probably comes as no surprise to any of you; chances are, you are similarly affected by the myriad ways in which our language can be constructed to elicit emotion, convey fact, and capture a moment in time. While most books require a few pages to really engage me, some are so brilliantly crafted that all it takes is a single sentence. One such work I’ve just begun as my next e-read: Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist.

“Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I will assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to towns, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born; on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of the business at all events; the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter.”

Care to share a favorite first sentence?

 

11 Comments so far ↓

  1. Kerian says:

    I’m not a fan of Dickens, though have yet to read anything by him other than A Christmas Carol. This might make it seem odd that one of my favorite first sentences in a book is from A Tale of Two Cities:

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

    This book is on that long list of books I want to read. Someday.

    I want to recommend a book to you if you really like classics: Literary Trivia: Fun and Games for Book Lovers by Richard Lederer and Michael Gilleland.

  2. Kirsten says:

    I’ll keep my eye out for that one, K :) Maybe I should do a weekly trivia post?

    You might try Oliver Twist; you have the sort of empathy needed to fully appreciate the tale (though I wonder if some of the humor might escape you, little miss innocent!). *grin*

  3. I’m not a Dickens fan either, I’ve tried to read several and just can’t get interested. There are plenty of other Victorian authors I enjoy though!

    My favorite opening line of a book:

    “Christmas won’t be Christmas without presents.” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

    That opening line sets the stage for a first chapter that tells you everything you need to know to fall in love with the March family!

  4. Kirsten says:

    Good one, bib – Jo was my favorite! I need to re-read that one. *sigh* There’s just not enough time in the day…

  5. Kerian says:

    Kirsten, if you do weekly trivia posts I would look forward to them! Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll look for a copy of Oliver Twist and apologize in advance for my probable misses of some of the humor. ;)

    Oh, bib has quoted one of my favorite books! Maybe make a movie night of it, Kirsten? I know it’s not the same as reading the book. I think there are two movie versions, though perhaps it wouldn’t so entertaining to watch them back-to-back?

  6. Kirsten says:

    It’s ok, K – not everyone is as cynical and sarcastic an old lady as I am; it’s necessary to catch some of the jokes ;) Try reading the first few chapters online first, so you haven’t spent money on a book you won’t read, or won’t enjoy!

    I haven’t seen Little Women in ages – I might have to propose an “off-cycle” movie night, since Saturdays are pretty much off-limits for spending a few hours at the computer… Mare likes to actually leave the house and do stuff. What’s up with that???

  7. Kael says:

    Hey K- I just discovered your blog for the first time. :)

    I just started reading “Listening for Coyote” by William Sullivan and the opening line of the prologue is, “There are times when daydreams of wilderness loom so enticingly they might be Atlantis at a rare low tide.” It’s not an all-time favorite opener, but it very much resonates with me right now and I thought it was nice imagery.

  8. Kirsten says:

    Kael, welcome! So glad to see another familiar “face” :)

    That’s a compelling opening line; metaphors and similes, when used properly, can make the difference between a good novel and a great one, I think. Markus Zuzak’s The Book Thief is a brilliant example; if you’ve not read it, you really must.

  9. Kirsten says:

    Also, not a first sentence, but this one couldn’t go without sharing:

    There is a drowsy state, between sleeping and waking, when you dream more in five minutes with your eyes half open, and yourself half conscious of everything that is passing around you, than you would in five nights with your eyes fast closed, and your senses wrapt in perfect unconsciousness.
    Oliver Twist

  10. foggidawn says:

    One of my favorite opening paragraphs (sorry, it goes beyond just a sentence!) comes from Patricia C. Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons:

    “Linderwall was a large kingdom, just east of the Mountains of Morning, where philosophers were highly respected and the number five was fashionable. The climate was unremarkable. The knights kept their armor brightly polished mainly for show — it had been centuries since a dragon had come east. There were the usual periodic problems with royal children and uninvited fairy godmothers, but they were always the sort of thing that could be cleared up by finding the proper prince or princess to marry the unfortunate child a few years later. All in all, Linderwall was a very prosperous and pleasant place.
    Cimorene hated it.”

  11. Kirsten says:

    Reading it now, foggi – very fun so far :)

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