In The Beginning…Great First Lines

TheOnce Upon a time first line of a fantastic book.  It can be simple, just a few words that grab you into a story such as, “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.” Don’t you want to continue reading to find out whose hand this is in the darkness and why is the hand holding a knife?  I know I do.  Neil Gaiman continues this suspenseful type of storytelling throughout his 2009 Newberry Award winning book, The Graveyard Book.   Definitely a mysterious, suspenseful book adults can enjoy as much as young adults.

Or that first line, can be complex, full of description and adjectives that provide such clear imagery in your mind, you want to keep reading because you are so engrossed in the story already.  For instance, this first line from master classic storyteller, J. R. R. Tolkien writes in the first line of The Hobbit, “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort,” he provides us with such a description we can smell and feel the dirt, the wet mud, the stench and we want to find out:  who is this Hobbit?

One of my most personal favorites is from the classic children’s picture book, Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans in which he writes, “In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines,” serving as a charming beginning to this most beloved tale.  What could be more enchanting than an old house in Paris covered in vines? Read it again as an adult and I know you’ll love the magic created.

Woman Reading Book

Woman Reading in a Study, by Mary Ferris Kelly

Two books I’ve enjoyed and were completely surprised by, from the very first line include:

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan was so unexpected, it quickly became a favorite book of mine.  A fast paced, unique story with interesting characters helped in keeping this book top on my list. I found this book inventive, quirky and creative. The book is stylistic and just so interesting to read visually and through its language.  Try it!

Still Alice by Lisa Genova was again, another surprisingly lovely book. A unique narrator gives us the first hand glimpse into a woman who struggles from Alzheimer’s at an early age.  It is a spectacular read.

When you take the time to choose a book to read this year, try selecting from just reading the first line.  Learn what type of stories you enjoy reading, from what first lines keep you engaged in the book.  Do you like those that keep you on edge by creating suspense on that first page?  You may like those that use such incredible description, you get enthralled by the setting or characters outlined by the author.

Looking for the classics or more great first lines?  Try this great article about the Best 100 Opening Lines. 

It’s a year, with new books to try.  Try that first line, first paragraph, first page, first chapter.  You may be surprised at the story that unfolds.

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