BTT – In the Beginnings

What are your favourite first sentences from books? Is there a book that you liked specially because of its first sentence? Or a book, perhaps that you didn’t like but still remember simply because of the first line?

I’m not really one for memorizing lines to books or movies, other than “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Even there I only know the first 12 words, and that sentence goes on for a paragraph. I don’t believe that I’ve ever liked a book primarily for its first line (if you open strong and then blow it, you’ve still blown it) or one that I remember because of the first line. However, I think that opening lines can be crucial to setting the tone of the book. Consider the opening lines of these two books:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transfomed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

Quick! Tell me which one is from “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen and which is “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka. Also, tell me which book is totally bizarre and which is often cited as an early example of chick lit. The essence of those two books are largely expressed in those very first lines but luckily both authors were skilled enough to take that essence and expand it into a very compelling story.

What are your feelings about first lines? Do you have some favorites? Good examples of first lines that really set the tone for the book?

Don’t forget to check out my GIVEAWAY of Doreen Orion’s Book “Queen of the Road”

Also check out my post about Maw Books’ Very Important Contest

14 comments to BTT – In the Beginnings

  • The first is Austen, of course, and sometimes is considered Chick Lit but I hate categories.

    I think I’ve answered your questions on my blog :)

  • Frankly I never did like Jane Austen. She is over rated!

    My answer is same as Chris! First one is from Pride and Prejudice.

    Thats becos I have read Metamorphosis!

  • I agree with your point that a first line can be crucial to setting up the book. It isn’t enough for me to say whether a book will be good or not–but a good one will stand out. I have a terrible memory when it comes to quotes, much less first sentences though, so usually by the time I’m half way or finished with a book, I don’t remember whether the first sentence made an impression on me or not.

  • Sure the rest of the books has to be terrific too. But I have a hard time imagining either of those without their first sentences.

    I think the first sentence is very important.

    Here’s mine.

  • I have never read any Austen either. Metamorphosis sounds interesting and strange. 😉

  • Wow, how could I forget Kafka? Glad you reminded me of how much I always loved that first line.

  • Of course the word “insect” gives it away.

  • I’ve never read Kafka, but that first line makes me want to. I’ve been saying that a lot in my replies to all these great first lines!

    I used Austen in my post too. It’s really hard to avoid that iconic beginning, especially when that line is brilliant in more than one way. I agree with you that they can set the tone for the entire book, but a first line has never made a book for me.

  • trish

    I totally forgot about Metamorphosis!! One of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever read, yet it drew my sympathy like few stories ever have. In fact, I was one of the few people in the class who liked it, seeing past the obvious “guy turns into a cockroach” story.

    Good answer!

  • I’ve never read Kafka. I’m missing out!l

  • “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
    From A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving.
    “My name is Odd Thomas, though in this age when fame is the alter at which most people worship, I am not sure why you should care who I am or that I exist.” From Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz

  • Stephanie

    Hey Jenn! I don’t devour books anywhere near your rate, but here are a few beginnings that came to mind:

    “‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.’

    – The Satanic Verses

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

    – Anna Kerenina

    “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

    – 100 Years of Solitude

    “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

    -Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

    Whew! What a nice trip through my bookshelf!

  • Hmm my favs… “Pride and Prejudice”, “Emma”, “A Tale of Two Cities”, and “The Hobbit”. There are tons of other great ones out there, but those come to mind.