Sunday, February 05, 2006

The thin read line

Thanks to the Light Reader (can we call her the "luminous lector"?), I've been scrutinizing this list of the 100 best first lines from novels. It has the old standbys (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Woolf, Morrison, James, Dickens, Pynchon, etc., etc.), some mild surprises (DFW, Barth, Coover), and some surprising surprises (who hasn't sat down with relish to a good Ronald Sukenick book?).

I have some minor quibbles, and I'm in agreement with a few of the selections—the first sentences of One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Razor's Edge, and especially Gaddis's A Frolic of His Own:

—Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

JR has a similarly great casual/charged opener. (I don't have the book at hand, but I have the Gaddis tribute of Conjunctions here, and it's quoted in the appreciation by Maureen Howard:)

Money...? in a voice that rustled.
Paper, yes.


Dizzyheads are encouraged to chime in with their own favorite openers. I'll offer two of my own for now:

1.
People do not give it credence that a fourteen-year-old girl could leave home and go off in the wintertime to avenge her father's blood but it did not seem so strange then, although I will say it did not happen every day.

—Charles Portis, True Grit

(Portis perfectly invokes narrator Mattie Ross's direct yet idiosyncratic voice, sets up the timeframe, and anticipates the main theme of the story—all this, plus a fine bit of humor at the end.)


2.
"Oh!" said Sylvia suddenly.

Maybe you need a bit more:

"Oh!" said Sylvia suddenly. "What?" said Lee alarmed. "Oh I have to go out with you to get firewood," replied Sylvia. "Oh now I remember," said Lee....

—Lee Tandy Schwartzman, Crippled Detectives

4 Comments:

Blogger Jenny D said...

I have never read TRUE GRIT! I am putting it on my library list....

I don't have my books with me here, only a random selection, so I can't make any further contributions....

9:58 PM  
Blogger Andy Selsberg said...

"Cities at night, I feel, contain men who cry in their sleep and then say Nothing." --First line in 'The Information' by Martin Amis.

Also love the last line: "And then there is the information, which is nothing, and comes at night."


Where is the list of best last lines?

11:26 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Best *last* lines! New contest, Dizzyheads...

Those bookending *Information* lines are tremendous indeed!

12:19 AM  
Blogger David Haglund said...

For best last line I would nominate The Sportswriter:

"And in truth, of course, this may be the last time you will ever feel this way again."

I'm not sure if the effect comes across if you don't know the whole paragraph, but it's a remarkable ending.

4:00 PM  

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