What makes a great opening line for a novel? I don’t know, but like the prude looking for pornography in the middle school library, I know it when I see it.
First, don’t worry about whether the book is actually “great literature.” If it has been published as a book, it qualifies. This is just for fun, and I’ll be the first to admit you might remember several better choices.
Second, while it would be nice if one of these opening lines motivated someone to read a new book, please keep in mind the several hundred pages between an amazing first line and a great book. In some cases the book lives up to the promise of those first words. In others, not so much. Only the first line is guaranteed.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” -George Orwell, 1984
“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to.” -Bill Bryson, The Lost Continent
“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.” -Joseph Heller, Catch-22
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” -Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina”
“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” -Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness…..” -Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
“Call me Ishmael.” -Herman Melville, Moby Dick
“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.” -Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
“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.” -J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
“Officious little prick.” -Stephen King, The Shining
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” -Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice
“It was a good weekend, except for the dead priest.” -Thomas Adcock, Drown All the Dogs
“If this typewriter can’t do it, then f*** it, it can’t be done.” -Tom Robbins, Still Life With Woodpecker
“It was a pleasure to burn.” -Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
“All of this happened, more or less.” -Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five
“For the better part of my childhood, my professional aspirations were simple- I wanted to be an intergalactic princess.” -Janet Evanovich, Seven Up
“In our family there is no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” -Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
“They didn’t say anything about this in the books, I thought, as the snow blew in through the gaping doorway and settled on my naked back. I lay face down on the cobbled floor in a pool of faceless muck, my arm deep inside the straining cow….” -James Herriott, All Creatures Great and Small
“I met the woman in the elevator of the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin a few moments before the Provos sprayed us with automatic weapons.” -Andrew M. Greeley, Happy Are The Peacemakers
” Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I can’t be sure.” –Albert Camus, The Stranger
Did your favorite opening line make the list? If you’ve got one I forgot, or just never discovered, feel free to add on. How about it?