The American Book Review has a cynical traffic generating list of the best 100 opening lines from literature. I just read the whole thing so you don’t have to and to be honest I don’t think you have to. They don’t really get it. Or perhaps I don’t. Sure, they’ve got a lot of the famous ones. Here’s their top five
1. Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
2. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. —Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)
3. A screaming comes across the sky. —Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (1973)
4. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. —Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967; trans. Gregory Rabassa)
5. Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. —Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (1955)
And you have to respect them for including the infamous:
22. It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. —Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)
Beyond that a lot of the selections seem to be trying too hard or are there on the strength of the rest of the book. But they thankfully they aren’t too focussed on contemporary choices.. pick a from a wide range of decades and centuries past.
My own favourite openings aren’t from literature and are best appreciated over more than just a single line. Like this;
Billie Holiday’s autobiography….
Mom and Pop were just a couple of kids when they got married. He was eighteen, whe was sixteen and I was three.
I have always be struck between the remarkable similarity between these two. They diverge a bit beyond that point, but they both finish in a similar fashion (after the ellipseses)
The Gospel according to St. John, King James Edition
1.1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and
the Word was God.
1.2 The same was in the beginning with God.
1.3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.
1.4 In him was life; and the life was the light of men.
1.5 And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprended it not.
(21.25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.)
Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico Philosophicus
1. The world is everything that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.1.1 The world is determined by the facts, and by these beingall the facts.
1.1.2 For the totality of determines both what is the case, and also all that is not the case.
1.1.3 The facts in logical space are the world.
(7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.)
Which seems like a good place to stop.