Since my books have all been published this month as eBooks and the latest as both an eBook and trade paperback, I’ve been in author mode. As a result I found myself reading their first chapters. Then I thought it might be fun to find some great lines (most are first sentences but not all) that weren’t mine and present them here. As I said in the notice for this column I’d love people to add their own favorites in the comment section. Remember, Umberto Eco once said, “The list is the origin of culture.”

“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

“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” – Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

“Unlike the typical bluesy earthy folksy denim-overalls noble-in-the-face-of-cracker-racism aw shucks Pulitzer-Prize-winning protagonist mojo magic black man, I am not the seventh son of the seventh son of the seventh son.” – Paul Beatty, The White Boy Shuffle

“The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” – Samuel Beckett, Murphy

“I don’t hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!” – William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

“In your rocking-chair, by your window dreaming, shall you long, alone. In your rocking-chair, by your window, shall you dream such happiness as you may never feel.” – Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

“Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward pathway had been lost.” – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, The Inferno

“I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.” – Ursula K. LeGuin, The Left Hand of Darkness

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

“When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.” – James Crumley, The Last Good Kiss

“Anger was washed away in the river along with any obligation.” – Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

“The night of my mother’s funeral, Linda Dawson cried on my shoulder, put her tongue in my mouth and asked me to find her husband.” – Declan Hughes, The Wrong Kind of Blood

“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, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

“Like the waters of the river, like the motorists on the highway, and like the yellow trains streaking down the Santa Fe tracks, drama, in the shape of exceptional happenings, had never stopped there.” – Truman CapoteIn Cold Blood

“You wouldn’t think we’d have to leave Chicago to see a dead body.” – Richard Peck, A Long Way from Chicago

“It was a fine cry—loud and long—but it had no bottom and it had no top, just circles and circles of sorrow.” – Toni Morrison, Sula

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” – William Gibson, Neuromancer

“The story so far: In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” – Douglas Adams, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – L. P. Hartley, The Go-Between

“True! – nervous – very, very nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?” – Edgar Allan Poe, The Tell-Tale Heart

“Granted: I AM an inmate of a mental hospital; my keeper is watching me, he never lets me out of his sight; there’s a peep-hole in the door, and my keeper’s eye is the shade of brown that can never see through a blue-eyed type like me.” – Gunter Grass, The Tin Drum

“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

“I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” – James JoyceUlysses

“The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” – Carl Sagan, Cosmos

11 thoughts on “SOME FINE LINES

  1. “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
    ― Elie Wiesel

  2. “A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house. Except for the chrome hooks, he was an ordinary-looking man of fifty or so.”
    ― Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

  3. NIce list, Zach! I loved the “The Last Good Kiss,” right from the first sentence. Now I remember why.

    One of my all-time favorites is nine words long and so damn simple. Maybe that’s what makes it great. In one little line I know everything about Frank Chambers and the locale.

    “They threw me off the hay truck about noon.” James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice

  4. But, you may say, we asked you to speak about women and fiction – what has that got to do with a room of one’s own? – Virginia Woolf, “A Room of One’s Own”

    I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. – W. Somerset Maugham

  5. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” — Franz Kafka, “The Metamorphosis.”

    “There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.” –Charlotte Bronte, “Jane Eyre.”

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