“It was a dark and stormy night…”

The American Book Review recently compiled a list of the 100 best first lines of novels. Here are their top ten first lines:

  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)
  6. Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. —Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1877; trans. Constance Garnett)
  7. riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs. —James Joyce, Finnegans Wake (1939)
  8. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. —George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
  9. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. —Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
  10. I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

Check out the full list and see if you agree with their choices. They have also put together a list of the 100 best last lines from novels (pdf).

At the opposite end of the spectrum, every year the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest sets out to find the worst first line from an imaginary novel. See their list of grand prize winners, and consider submitting your own! Here is the grand prize winner for the worst imaginary opening sentence of 2010:
For the first month of Ricardo and Felicity’s affair, they greeted one another at every stolen rendezvous with a kiss–a lengthy, ravenous kiss, Ricardo lapping and sucking at Felicity’s mouth as if she were a giant cage-mounted water bottle and he were the world’s thirstiest gerbil. –Molly Ringle, Seattle, Washington

Found any noteworthy (or notably bad?) first or last lines in the Leisure Reading Collection lately? Let us know what you think! Here are a handful of first lines from novels currently in the collection:

  • Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians. –Susanna Clark, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (2004)
  • Picture a summer stolen whole from some coming-of-age film set in small-town 1950s. –Tana French, In the Woods (2007)
  • Juan Narciso Ucañan went to his fate that Wednesday, and no one even noticed. –Frank Schatzing, The Swarm (2006)
  • “Dad’s dead,” Wendy says offhandedly, like it’s happened before, like it happens every day. –Jonathan Tropper, This is Where I Leave You (2009)
  • If I could tell you only one thing about my life it would be this: when I was seven years old the mailman ran over my head. –Brady Udall, The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint (2002)

Curious about where any of the stories go from there? Stop by and pick one up today!


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