Sunday, August 20, 2006

First Lines

I love great first lines in books. The gold standard is Herman Melville's beginning of Moby Dick:

Call me Ishmael.

Hard to beat that though Leo Rosten came close in his novel, Silky, about a Jewish-American private investigator:

Call me schlemiel.

Some other great first lines:

For a long time I used to go to bed early.
- Marcel Proust, Swann's Way

They don't often invite me to Balmoral nowadays, which is a blessing; those damned tartan carpets always put me off my food, to say nothing of the endless pictures of German royalty and that unspeakable statue of the Prince Consort standing knock-kneed in a kilt.
- George McDonald Fraser, Flashman in The Great Game

I have lost count of the days that have passed since I fled the horrors of Vasco Miranda's mad fortress in the Andalusian mountain-village of Benengeli; ran from death under cover of darkness and left a message nailed to the door.
- Salman Rushdie, The Moor's Last Sigh

I am American, Chicago born - Chicago, that somber city - and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent.
- Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March

When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake - not a very big one.

- Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

The night before he went to London, Richard Mayhew was not enjoying himself.
- Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere

Any other favorites?


Irish Wolf said...

"He's a Mad Scientist and I'm his Beautiful Daughter."
- Robert Heinlein, The Number of the Beast

I hadn't meant to shoot the cat.
- Spider Robinson, Telempath

The sky over Chiba's Night City was a uniform gray, like a television tuned to a dead channel.
- William Gibson, Neuromancer

Anonymous said...

"The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Steven King, The Gunslinger

Michael Wade said...

Those are great additions!

Here's another: "The house and the old man were well matched, both large framed and failing fast."
- Peter Pouncey, Rules for Old Men Waiting

pawnking said...

How can you not include "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." ?? Maybe second only to Mody Dick in fame.

Michael Wade said...


I stand shamed before the world by the omission. That line is one of my favorites.

Rowan Manahan said...

I wasted a lot of Harvard University's endowment - more than $6million, to be specific - and everyone around me applauded.
- Seth Godin, Permission Marketing

ob5idian said...

Empires long united must divide;
Nations long divided must unite.
So it has always been.

-Luo Guanzhong, Romance of the Three Kingdoms

Anonymous said...

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Kafka - The Metamorphosis