Monday, September 1, 2014

First Sentences of Some of My Favorite Novels.

I recently read an article about the importance of the first sentence. All right, I didn’t actually read it, I skimmed over it. There was a picture of some author gazing thoughtfully off into the distance with earth sky and water in the background, and he threw out some ideas about how the first sentence of a novel can determine whether the book is worthy of a prize. Oddly enough, for someone stressing the importance of a first sentence, his initial thought seemed to me to clock in at somewhere over a thousand words.Perhaps it was just me. I tried re-reading a few times and then just gave up altogether. You can read it here, although I don’t recommend it: I really don’t see how you can judge an entire novel by the very first sentence, any more than you can judge it by the fourth sentence on the 87th page. Granted, there are some good opening lines, but many great books begin with a simple statement. In fact, I would much rather judge a book by its cover than by a single sentence.
But it did have me go back and check the first sentences of some of my favorite books, just to see if there was anything to it. What follows is a short list of first sentences from books I regard highly. I’ve left off the name of the book and the author’s name in order to play a little game. Can you name any of the books? Just to make it interesting, I’ll offer the first copy of my newest book, The Association, to whomever can name the most books based on the sentences provided below. The book will be released sometime in September. You can e-mail me your answers at

1)      The one opened the door with a latch-key and went in, followed by a young fellow who awkwardly removed his cap.

2)      She came out of the store just in time to see her young son playing on the sidewalk directly in the path of the gray, gaunt man who strode down the center of the walk like a mechanical derilect.

3)      A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories.

4)      First of all, it was October, a rare month for boys.

5)      On an exceptionally hot evening early in July a young man came out of the garret in which he lodged in S. Place and walked slowly, as though in hesitation, towards K. Bridge

6)      When Mr. Bilbo Baggins of Bag End announced that he would shortly be celebrating his eleventy-first birthday with a party of special magnificence, there was much talk and excitement in Hobbiton.

7)      In 1815, M. Charles Francois-Bienvenu Myriel was Bishop of D---.

8)      The urge to embark on a work of creation after a period of sterility is like the desire to make love, very violent, but it can be appeased by failure.

9)      Just after passing Caraher’s saloon, on the County Road that ran south from Bonneville, and that divided the Broderson ranch from that of Los Muertos, Presley was suddenly aware of the faint and prolonged blowing of a steam whistle that he knew must come from the railroad shops near the depot at Bonneville.

10)   “I am inclined to think—“ said I.

11)   There lived in Westphalia, in the castle of my Lord the Baron of Thunder-ten-tronckh, a young man, on whom nature had bestowed the most agreeable manners.

12)   Around quitting time, Tod Hackett heard a great din on the road outside his office.

13)   We are at rest five miles behind the front.

14)   The studio was filled with the rich odour of roses, and when the light summer wind stirred amidst the trees of the garden, there came through the open door the heavy scent of the lilac, or the more delicate perfume of the pink-flowering thorn.

15)   On the 6th of January 1482, the Parisians were awakened by the noise of all the bells within the triple circuit of the City, the University, and the Town ringing in full peal.

16)   It was a pleasure to burn.

17)   “What’s it going to be then, eh?”

18)   Buck did not read the news, or he would have known there was trouble brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.

It's a rather tough list, so don't feel bad if you didn't get more than a couple. As I said, not even most great novels begin with a memorable first line.


  1. Somebody's going to have to get them all to beat Jing Li.