Monday, July 29, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Opening Lines of Books

"Top Ten Tuesdays" is a weekly countdown meme, hosted by the Broke and the Bookish!

There's nothing quite like a good book that can grab you, not by intriguing cover art or involving inner cover, but by a killer first line. If you've got a novel that hooks you like a fish within the open sea of an introductory sentence, you've most likely got a winner. Here are some of my favorite starts to some of my favorite books! 

1. "It was a dark and stormy night." A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L'Engle 
When you're ten, you have no idea what is lurking in the dark outside your window, and as I read along with Meg, I knew just how she felt, because I knew what kinds of things usually happened on "dark and stormy" nights... but what followed was something neither of us expected. 

2. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen. 
Perfectly cadenced and ringing of old country wisdom straight from a domineering mother of five eligible  young Regency-era women, this might be my vote for most perfect classic opening. If it weren't for...

3. "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy. 
How much truth can ring in one sentence, how much can be hinted at the convoluted inter-workings of family dynamics, and how well can you encompass the work as a whole, with fourteen simple words? Well played, Tolstoy. 

4. "Marley was dead: to begin with." A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. 
And what a beginning it is. 

5. "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink." I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith. 
I used to write in my journal sitting in my parent's bathtub (but that had more to do with Kyle XY than convenience or comfort). Still, I feel ya, girl. 

6. "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone, J. K. Rowling.
Here it is: two of the most-hated children's literary characters in the world, who perfectly open up one of the most prolific book series in the entire world. Of course, we all came to know that the Dursley household was, by far, much less normal than they would like to be, but that was all the reason why there was a story to tell in the first place. 

7. "This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it." The Princess Bride, William Goldman. 
This book is so confusing and silly and unexpected, and so is this line. 

8. "If you are interested in happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle." The Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket. 
And yet, this series gave all of us kids such joy, thus bringing us the first mass marketing technique of "schadenfreude for children" (Just kidding. The joy came from seeing the insurmountable obstacles in front of the Baudelaires, and watching as they kept almost-triumphing and trying-again, until the thirteenth book. We didn't rejoice in their sadness; we shared in their optimism and perseverance. We knew they could do it). 

9. "The sun sets in the west (just about everyone knows that), but Sunset Towers faced east. Strange!" The Westing Game, Ellen Raskin. 
The best part about this line, is that it not only hints at the enigmatic and surprising qualities of the mystery to-be-solved in this classic children's novel, but that, years later, as you write a blog post about opening lines in novels, and think of this one, you realize that the resolution to the mystery (and the naming of a certain character), had been hinted at from the get-go, with an emphasis on the confusion of major geographical directions. 

10. "There was once a boy named Milo who did not know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always." The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster. 
There's already an interest in a book lovingly picked out for you and carefully read, while tucked into bed, by your father, but the only thing that could swallow your attention more, was a line like this, about a little boy, who was kind of like you. 

So, what do you think? What are some of your favorite opening lines? 


  1. Completely agree with you about Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. A great beginning!

  2. We have many of the same quotes, happily. But how did I forget Phantom Tollbooth?!

    Here's my list of favorite first lines.

  3. Oo! We have pretty similar quotes listed!! I wanted to use Princess Bride and I didn't!! That is a good one for sure!

    Here is my TTT

  4. Great list! While the only quote we share is from Pride & Prejudice, I am in love with the other quotes you mentioned: A Wrinkle in Time, I Capture the Castle, The Princess Bride, and The Series of Unfortunate Events (currently reading this one, so I can't believe I forgot about it).

  5. I really like the beginnings to The Princess Bride and The Westing Game, I'll have to read both the books soon! :) My TTT list:

    Alice @ Alice in Readerland

  6. We've picked a few similar quotes.

    I love that you've included the beginning of A Christmas Carol, I'd completely forgotten what a great opening to a book that is. I wish I'd thought of it for my list!

    Here's my list. I've gone mostly for opening lines.


  7. A Christmas Carol is one of my favorite books. Love to see it on this list!

    My TTT

  8. Lovely list! I also loved the beginning of HP1 <3

    Thanks for dropping by my TTT post! :D

    - Kazhy @ My Library in the Making

  9. What a wonderful list! You and I share a lot of bookish favorites, I think.