In the Beginning

What makes you decide to read a certain book? Is it the cover (whether or not you should judge a book by its cover, many do), the flap copy, a friend’s recommendation, familiarity with the author? Something else?

Friends’ recommendations are important to me, and sometimes I’ll look at reviews as well. I always read the flap copy (on the back of a paperback or the inside front flap of a hardcover), but often what clinches it is the first sentence. Am I hooked after the first sentence? After the first page? I figure the author must put as much or equal thought and effort into the first sentence as any other in the book, the first sentence being the equivalent of a first impression.

Here are a few memorable first sentences:

“Leon Trotsky is trying to kill me.” –The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin: A Novel, Richard Lourie

“I had this friend, you see, that everyone loved.
(My name is Sid Halley.)
I had this friend that everyone loved, and I put him on trial.” –Come to Grief, Dick Francis

“It was a dark and stormy night.” –A Wrinkle in Time, Madeleine L’Engle

“Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking care to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen.” –The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

“If you are not here, then why are you everywhere?” –Love Begins in Winter, Simon Van Booy (epigraph)

What are your favorite beginnings, most memorable first sentences?

4 thoughts on “In the Beginning

  1. 1. “As Gregor Samsa awoke from a night of uneasy dreaming, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

    2. “Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.”

    3. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    4. “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge.”

    5. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

  2. 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


    When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, “Leo Gursky is survived by an apartment full of shit.”
    Nicole Krauss, The History of Love

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