Friday, November 07, 2008

100 Best First Sentences from Novels

I conclude my obsessive listmania series with a favorite: The American Book Review’s 100 Best First Lines from Novels (

The first, predictably, is from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick: Call me Ishmael. My all-time favorite, from Ken Kesey's One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, did not make the list: They're out there.

Among my all-time bests from the list are these:

  • #8: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – George Orwell, 1984
  • #10: I am an invisible man. – Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • #12: You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. – Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • #15: The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. – Samuel Beckett, Murphy
  • #16: 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
  • #28: Mother died today. Albert Camus, The Stranger, translated by Stuart Gilbert
  • #31: I am a sick man … I am a spiteful man. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Notes from Underground, translated by Michael R. Katz
  • #48: He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea
  • #94: In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. – Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  • #100: The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. – Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

Reading those sentences makes me want to reread those books! Remember: Read to write, when you can’t write read, and read like a writer!