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100 Best First Lines of Novels

September 8, 2009

Posted by Rick

Having posted the 100 Best Last Lines of Novels, I began to wonder about such a list for the other end of the story. The “Page One” feature in Poets & Writers is always the first place I look when I get a new issue — and one I tend to revisit when looking at my own work.

In the case of the following first lines, I think it is interesting — having read many of these books — to look at how or if the first line embodies the story. Is it some sort of micro-synopsis? Or is it just a grabber? What makes a first line great?

I’ve found such a list at The American Book Review, though it is a few years old.
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100 best first lines from novels

American Book Review | Posted: Friday, February 3, 2006
Following is a list of the 100 best first lines from novels, as decided by the American Book Review, a nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University:

1. Call me Ishmael. – Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)

2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

3. A screaming comes across the sky. – Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)

4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. – Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)

5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. – Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)

6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)

7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. – James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)

8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984 (1949)

9. 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, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)

10. I am an invisible man. – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

To read the other 90 best first lines, go to Pantagraph.com

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