The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature

Introducing a story to a reader is a lot like dropping a pickup line on someone: do it the wrong way and they’ll wind up under the covers with a different… book. Here to show you how it’s done are the top twenty-five cold openings in Western literature. For some additional insight, we’ve included speculations as to the thought process that might have influenced each author’s writing. Enjoy!

1. Ice, Ice Ba—Whaaat?

Opener: “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.” Book: One Hundred Years of Solitude Author: Gabriel García Márquez Creative Thought Process: Before getting into that whole “ice” thing, unceremoniously mention that Buendía eventually has to stare down a firing squad. That’ll buy at least a hundred pages of curiosity.

2. A Real Page-Burner

Opener: “It was a pleasure to burn.” Book: Fahrenheit 451 Author: Ray Bradbury Creative Thought Process: Juxtapose the anarchic verb “to burn” with an alluring noun like “pleasure.” Hope a major cigarette company doesn’t steal the phrase some forty years down the road.

3. April Cowers

Opener: “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Book: 1984 Author: George Orwell Creative Thought Process: To properly set the mood for a futuristic dystopia, combine the elements of springtime, coldness, an unlucky number, and bells tolling. Then, watch people fight over the feasibility of a clock that can strike thirteen.

4. Post-Partum Possession

Opener: “124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.” Book: Beloved Author: Toni Morrison Creative Thought Process: Make the subject of the sentence an obscure sequence of numbers to get the reader’s attention. In case that doesn’t work, follow up with a terrifying, baby-related metaphor.

5. F. M. L.

Opener: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Book: Metamorphosis Author: Franz Kafka Creative Thought Process: Ease the reader into Gregor Samsa’s misfortunes by describing his nightsweats about… Meh, skip to the giant cockroach.

6. Ve Believe In Nah-sing, Lebowski!

Opener: “Mama died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know.” Book: The Stranger Author: Albert Camus Creative Thought Process: In order to sell the whole involuntary-manslaughter thing, start by making the guy seem detached. Okay, more detached. Just a little more. PERFECT!

7. Hole-y Middle-earth, Batman!

Opener: “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.” Book: The Hobbit Author: J.R.R. Tolkien Creative Thought Process: In the interest of thoroughness, approach the most epic alternate universe in all of literature by starting with a hole in the ground.

8. Gray-Per-View

Opener: “The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.” Book: Neuromancer Author: William Gibson Creative Thought Process: Methinks I shall write the greatest opening line ever. Donesies.

9. Out There

Opener: “They’re out there. Black boys in white suits up before me to commit sex acts in the hall and get it mopped up before I can catch them.” Book: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Author: Ken Kesey Creative Thought Process: First, open with something that conveys paranoia. Mentioning the ambiguous ol’ “they” is a good start, but driving it home will require something more specific. Hmm…

10. Fragile: Do Not Stack

Opener: “When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed – ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.” Book: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings Author: Maya Angelou Creative Thought Process: Casually inform the reader that these children might not be in the best hands. Start by Fed-Ex-ing them 1,600 miles.

11. Hi, My Name Is (WHAT?!)

Opener: “Call me Ishmael.” Book: Moby-Dick Author: Herman Melville Creative Thought Process: Well, you should probably include at least one short sentence.

12. …Goes To-gether Like a Horse and Car-riage!

Opener: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Book: Anna Karenina Author: Leo Tolstoy Creative Thought Process: Give the readers an impossibly oversimplified statement about mankind, then sit back and watch them realize that it’s actually true.

13. The Reckonin’

Opener: “You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.” Book: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Author: Mark Twain Creative Thought Process: Write a 43-chapter novel entirely in rural slang. From the perspective of a 13-year-old boy. Who’s uneducated. While you’re at it, make it the greatest novel in American history.

14. Universal Spoof

Opener: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Book: Pride and Prejudice Author: Jane Austen Creative Thought Process: Write sarcastically during an era so prudish that future generations will actually mistake you as being serious.

15. Whatever, Nevermind

Opener: “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.” Book: The Catcher in the Rye Author: J.D. Salinger Creative Thought Process: Offhandedly trash-talk the classics, gloss over any specifics, and leave everyone wanting more. Make sure Holden, the narrator, is one hundred percent unable to repeat this technique on women.

16. Great Balls of Fire

Opener: “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.” Book: Lolita Author: Vladimir Nabokov Creative Thought Process: Subtly allude to the fact that the love interest is only thirteen by writing her name in the diminutive, “-ita” form. Throwing the word “sin” in there probably isn’t a bad idea either.

17. Bombs Over Bag-Lady

Opener: “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Book: The Crow Road Author: Iain Banks Creative Thought Process: Open with a bang. Scratch that – open with a violent human combustion. See where it takes you…

18. Old Man Liver

Opener: “I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I think my liver is diseased.” Book: Notes from the Underground Author: Fyodor Dostoevsky Creative Thought Process: Start with some creepy character building. Sick? Check. Spiteful? Check. Unattractive? Check. TMI? Double check.

19. Prose In Different Area Codes

Opener: “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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” Book: A Tale of Two Cities Author: Charles Dickens Creative Thought Process: It was earth, it was sky, it was sun, it was moon, it was salt, it was pepper… Um…

20. That Peaceful, Queasy Feeling

Opener: “My mother is standing in front of the bathroom mirror smelling polished and ready; like Jean Naté, Dippity Do and the waxy sweetness of lipstick. Her white, handgun-shaped blow-dryer is lying on top of the wicker clothes hamper, ticking as it cools. She stands back and smoothes her hands down the front of her swirling, psychedelic Pucci dress, biting the inside of her cheek. ‘Damn it,’ she says, ‘something isn’t right.'” Book: Running with Scissors Author: Augusten Burroughs Creative Thought Process: Throw the reader into the body of an innocent young kid. Drop some hints that mom may be a lot of work. Buckle up; this ain’t The Brady Bunch.

21. Nowhere Man

Opener: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea.” Book: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Author: Douglas Adams Creative Thought Process: Put the readers in their place. You know, light-eons away from anything of significance.

22. A Nicens Little Title

Opener: “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.” Book: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Author: James Joyce Creative Thought Process: What haven’t you tried yet ah yes baby talk that will be new.

23. Road Trippin’

Opener: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Book: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Author: Hunter S. Thompson Creative Thought Process: Dropkick the readers into chaos. Right after dropping some… ahem.

24. Shark Bait Hoo-Ha-Ha!

Opener: “He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.” Book: The Old Man and the Sea Author: Ernest Hemingway Creative Thought Process: Write about an old, grizzled man’s man who takes on an entire ocean. To distract everyone from the fact that mother used to dress you as a girl.

25. Scottish Rogue

Opener: “The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.” Book: Trainspotting Author: Irvine Welsh Creative Thought Process: If readin aboot heroin junkies disnae make ya sweat, readin throo mah brogue will.

135 thoughts on “The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature

  1. “You’re wha’? said Jimmy Rabbitte Sr”. From ‘The Snapper’ by Roddy Doyle – 2 words that completely set the scene (if you know Dublin)

  2. How do you miss The War Hound and the World’s Pain? “It was in that year when the fashion in cruelty demanded not only the crucifixion of peasant children, but a similar fate for their pets, that I first met Lucifer and was transported into Hell; for the Prince of Darkness wished to strike a bargain with me.”

  3. The line from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” is also probably one of the greatest opening lines of any movie as well. Just something about the phrasing that makes it sear into your thoughts and stay there.

  4. Thank you for putting in the Neuromancer line. I was ready to call bullshit if it wasn’t in there.

  5. Good choices. Some more:

    “A screaming comes across the sky” Thomas Pynchon, *Gravity’s Rainbow*

    “The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.” Cormac McCarthy, *All The Pretty Horses*

    “When they came south out of Grant County Boyd was not much more than a baby and the newly formed county they’d named Hildago was itself little older than the child.” Cormac McCarthy (again), *The Crossing”

    “They sent him to Dalls to kill a nigger pimp named Wendell Durfee. He wasn’t sure he could do it.” James Ellroy, *The Cold Six Thousand*

    “When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs Nugent.” Patrick McCabe, *The Butcher Boy*

    Sorry. This is like salted peanuts for me.

  6. “There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really Dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry.”

  7. What about Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time?
    “It was a dark and stormy night.”

  8. “Describe, using diagrams where appropriate, the exact circumstances leading to your death”
    from “Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers” (first Red Dwarf book), Grant Naylor.

  9. I can’t believe you left out Stephne King’s Gunslinger: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed”

  10. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice-not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even 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.

  11. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” -The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger

  12. “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.”

    Finnegans Wake – James Joyce

    It’s always nice to begin again with the ending, or end once more with the beginning.

  13. “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, Book 1)

  14. What about the best introduction to the greatest character in American literature?

    “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting at the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress.”

    A Confederacy of Dunces
    -John Kennedy Toole

  15. “The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children’s games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.” – G. K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

  16. “The small boys came early for the hanging.”. Ken Follett – The Pillars of the Earth. Still my all time favourite.

  17. What? Not including the opening line from The Dresden Files novel “Blood Rites”?

    “The building was on fire and it wasn’t my fault.”

  18. Yeah, going to have to call bullshit for no mention of “The Forever War” by Joe Haldeman:

    Tonight we’re going to show you eight silent ways to kill a man.

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  20. The luminosity of these lines is made only that much more intense by your infantile commentary on them. “Donesies”???

    If this is how you go about making literature relevant, I, for one, vote to let it remain obscure . . .

  21. “Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.” Dorothy Dunnett, The Ringed Castle

  22. Nicely compiled list, a joy to read through. Appreciated the bits of insight as well.

    But as for the reason I’m commenting – the silly titles for each entry? Was that really necessary? I had to deliberately ignore the orange typeface to get through this. Very annoying. A lame attempt more appropriate for a frat-guy men’s magazine. The audience of this article might be able to handle the content without the extraneous packaging.

  23. “Involution ocean” – Bruce Sterling:

    “We all have an emptiness in our lives, an emptiness that some fill with art, some with God, some with learning. I have always filled the emptiness with drugs.”

  24. I’m sorry, but the awful trying-to-be-funny titles completely ruined this list for me. Why not put the actual titles of the books as the titles and leave the incredibly stupid captions out all together?

  25. “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it.”- Gone with the Wind

    -Z

  26. What about “Who is John Galt” – one of the most well-known openers in literature. Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

  27. It has been said, but seriously: ‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.’ The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger, Stephen King.

  28. I would humbly submit:
    “Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang! Four shots ripped into my groin and I was off on the greatest adventure of my life!”
    -Sleep Till Noon by Max Shulman

  29. How could you leave out Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons?

    “When I was little I would think of ways to kill my daddy.”

  30. “Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John.” – Kurt Vonnegut – Cat’s Cradle

  31. Agreed with Derek C. F. Pegritz. How did you forget the opening to The Gunslinger.

  32. From The Android’s Dream by John Scalzi:

    “Dirk Moeller didn’t know if he could fart his way into a major diplomatic incident. But he was ready to find out.”

  33. Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu : Du côté de chez Swann « Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure. »

    “For a long time I went to bed early” : one of the most famous opening sentences of all french litterature.

  34. I would like to add another vote for “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” – Stephen King, The Gunslinger.

    Also: “Man, I look fantastic in this derby.” – Awesome, by Jack Pendarvis

  35. “All this happened, more or less.” – Kurt Vonnegut, _Slaughterhouse-Five_

  36. Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It – “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.”

    And the final line — ” I am haunted by waters.”

  37. “Camped beside the mountain that should not have been there, wrapped in cold desert darkness, Edward Shaw could not sleep.”
    – Greg Bear “The Forge of God”

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  39. “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.” -Catch-22, Joseph Heller

  40. I concur with those who have also said, “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” No opening line on this list gives me chills like that short sentence does.

  41. What about Ender’s Game? “‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.'”

  42. “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.” Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights. City

    How is that not on the list, probably one of the most intriquing opening lines ever

  43. MASON CITY.

    “To get there you follow Highway 58, going northeast out of the city, and it is a good highway and new. Or was new, that day we went up it. You look up the highway and it is straight for miles, coming at you, with the black line down the center coming at and at you, black and slick and tarry-shining against the white of the slab, and the heat dazzles up from the white slab so that only the black line is clear, coming at you with the whine of the tires, and if you don’t quit staring at that line and don’t take a few deep breaths and slap yourself hard on the back of the neck you’ll hypnotize yourself and you’ll come to just at the moment when the right front wheel hooks over into the black dirt shoulder off the slab, and you’ll try to jerk her back on but you can’t because the slab is high like a curb, and maybe you’ll try to reach to turn off the ignition just as she starts the dive.”

    Robert Penn Warren, All The King’s Men

  44. I nominate the first sentence of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne for the best first sentence in the English speaking world.
    “I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider’d how much depended upon what they were then doing;-that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;-and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost;-Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,-I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that in which the reader is likely to see me.”

  45. My favorite is Jane Austen, but here’s another good one. It’s rather long, but here it is: To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
    When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem’s fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. His left arm was somewhat shorter than his right; when he stood or walked, the back of his hand was at right angles to his body, his thumb parallel to his thigh. He couldn’t have cared less, so long as he could pass and punt.

    When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident. I maintain that the Ewells started it all, but Jem, who was four years my senior, said it started long before that. He said it began the summer Dill came to us, when Dill first gave us the idea of making Boo Radley come out.

  46. What about Earthly powers by Anthony Burgess

    “It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

  47. I agree with several others here: I think one of the most memorable opening lines of all time is Stephen King’s, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”

  48. I wonder what you guys would say about these two openings:

    “She was right when she said that my life is going to be like the day I was born, the umbilical cord is wrapping me from head to feet.

    In the womb I was a zygote just like everybody else, except, it was fate that destined this zygote while in the blastocyst phase to undergo a dextrorotation. I don’t know left to right people are or right to left, I know the whole world is spinning like the pilgrimage in Mecca while you’re viewing it from the top.”

    ——-

    “If you ever manage to read these words Louise, or ever manage to figure me out, I want you to know that I always had you in my heart. I’ve known you as the Angel of the Shadow, and ever since I became the Shadow of the Angel, ever grabbed the rainbow that night would’ve been you the last and the only love of my Heart … These words are for you.”

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  50. The opening of One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my all time favorites. Was a bit surprised that Sabatini’s Scaramouche didn’t make the cut. I recall it’s first sentence as: He was born with the gift of laughter and with a feeling that the world was mad, and this was his entire inheritance.

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  52. “What’s it going to be then, eh?”
    There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie, and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar making up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter basard though dry.”

    -Anthony Burgess, A Clockwork Orange

  53. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.
    -Their Eyes Were Watching God
    – Zora Neale Hurston
    Makes you wonder doesn’t it?

  54. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.

    -The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck

  55. It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” – First lines from Matilda by Roald Dahl

    Every R. Dahl book has an outstanding first line….

  56. Here’s the opening of Richard Peck’s “The Teacher’s Funeral: A Comedy in Three Acts”:

    “If your teacher has to die, August isn’t a bad time of year for it. You know August. The corn is earring. The tomatoes are ripening on the vine. The clover’s in full bloom. There’s a little less evening now, and that’s a warning. You want to live every day twice over because you’ll be back in the jailhouse of school before the end of the month.

    “Then our teacher, Miss Myrt Arbuckle, hauled off and died. It was like a miracle, though she must have been forty. …”

  57. How about books that begin and end with the same sentence? There is a Robert B. Parker Spencer novel with “She slapped my face” as the beginning and the end but I cannot now remember or locate it (I work in a library and have checked many of his books). Any help?

    Enjoyed this list, by the way.

  58. I love how we’ve all memorized the first lines of our favorite books…I love book nerds! Haha! I’m surprised Fahrenheit 451 isn’t #1 though because to me that’s the ultimate first line that will ever be written ever.

  59. I love reading all of these, but this might be my favorite:

    “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
    – The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

    And I agree with Flora that ““You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.” from Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City is also one of the all-time great starters!

  60. I can’t believe you overlooked the memorable opening lines from Frank McCourt’s coming-of-age memoir, Angela’s Ashes: “When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I managed to survive at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.”

  61. “They shoot the white girl first.”

    Chilling; from Paradise by Toni Morrison.

  62. “The telephone rang, and she knew she was going to die.”
    QUEEN OF THE SOUTH
    Arturo Perez Reverte

  63. Really fun to read the list, and even more fun to realize that I’ve read most of the books on it. And to those Constant Readers out there, I couldn’t agree more. To Roland and his Ka Tet!

  64. “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of the gods. I have no husband or child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me.” – C. S. Lewis, TILL WE HAVE FACES

    (And speaking of C. S. Lewis, it’s hard to top, “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” – from THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWNTREADER)

  65. What about Ellen Foster?
    When I was little I used to think of ways to kill my daddy.

  66. Really, now!!!
    A screaming comes across the sky.
    What could possibly better introduce a piece of work concerning modern history and paranoia, which are usually the same thing?

  67. One of my all-time favorite first lines is from A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving, “Owen Meany is the reason I believe in God.”

  68. Oh, yeah, definately, “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” I honestly don’t know why it didn’t end up on the list.

  69. Most really pretty girls have pretty ugly feet, and so does Mindy Metalman, Lenore notices, all of a sudden. – David Foster Wallace, The Broom of the System (1987)

  70. This list is trite and obvious–who wrote it? Not a student of literature, maybe Cliff’s Notes. In addition to many of the glaring omissions already mentioned, where’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”? “A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.” Widely regarded as one of the great openers in contemporary fiction. & yet Augusten Burroughs is here? I am going to be sick.

  71. Need a hug, Nate? I am certain that young Nate did not intend to stop the party. Continue, guys. You’re doing great!

  72. How about Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’?

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

    Love that one!

  73. what about jeremy fink and the meaning of life?

    ‘My sweat smells like peanut butter.”

  74. “Eternity was a bloody bore.”

    Lynn Kerstan and Alicia Rasley (Book title is escaping me!)

    Also loved, “Who is John Galt?”

    Read that book for the first time when I was eleven. My brother-in-law kept leaving me notes all over the place: “Who is John Galt? When you can answer that, we’ll talk.”

  75. “I came to Comala looking for my father, some man named Pedro Paramo.” Pedro Paramo

  76. JUST so you all know, I’m a Stephen King fan (i guess you could say fanatic). But i still think Fahrenheit 451’s first line is the best EVER written.

    “The terror, which would not end for another twenty-eight years–if it ever did end–began, so far as I know or can tell, with a boat made from a sheet of newspaper floating down a gutter swollen with rain.”-Stephen King; IT

    “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”-Stephen King; The Gunslinger

  77. Oops! I just realized how many other people quoted from The Gunslinger. Either way, Kudos to you, fellow Constant Readers. That line…i can’t even explain it. It’s the only one I’ve read that–in my personal opinion–compared to: “It was a pleasure to burn.”-Ray Bradbury

  78. This list is very good, but this one might be my favorite:
    “Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and was is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?”
    -Alice in Wonderland

  79. “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of Number Four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved with anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

    -Queen Rowling Herself, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
    …need I say more?

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  81. My favorite of all time:

    “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even 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.

  82. Pingback: Seasons & walls « ; Frau Jojo

  83. Love the list, just thought I’d add one of my favorites.

    “All this happened, more or less.”

    First line in “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka

  84. How about my personal favorite:
    “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

    -The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

  85. What about the opening line for Anthem by Ayn Rand, “It is a sin to write this”? If Tolstoy counts as Western so should she

  86. Pingback: Here's to the Crazy Ones - Hooks: The Best First Lines of Novels

  87. Pingback: Here's to the Crazy Ones - Hooks: The Best First Lines of Novels

  88. I’m so surprised that Sinclair Lewis’ first lines for Elmer Gantry hasn’t made the list: “Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was elequently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.”

  89. I wish he was my fiancee’s brother…damn…our best man is NOT a good speaker. yikes.

  90. ‘When i wake up, the other side of the bed is cold.’ -The Hunger Games; Suzanne Collins

  91. If you wanted to compose a list of the best opening lines in poetry… be sure to include ‘I heard a fly buzz when I died’, and ‘Because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me’…. Emily Dickinson…. Oh and Poe of course… can’t forget Poe

  92. The images of the documents are very helpful. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.” These pictures are worth more. Thanks for posting them.

  93. The list is interesting with a few of my favourites. But I found the creative thought process explanations a bit cheesy. Why trivialise something amazing by explaining it?

    The list also scared me into realising how many books there are out there I have not read … yet to read … probably will never read!

    Though not belonging to the genre of the Classics, my two all-time favourite first lines are: She only stopped screaming when she died.
    Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
    and
    Howard Roark laughed.
    The Fountainhead Ayn Rand.

  94. It was the afternoon of my eighty first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamitewhen Ali announced the archbishop was here to see me. Burgess

  95. There are at least half a dozen sites like this, and I always wonder why anyone could ever think that there is anything memorable about the lines they contribute. Out of 100 “great” lines, there are usually no more than three or four that are worth mentioning. Having made enemies all around by saying that, I’d like to make my contribution. It is the first line from Bunyan’s “Pilgrims’s Progress,” and it goes like this: “As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep, and as I slept, I dreamed a dream.” I remember thinking, “Wow!” the first time I read that. Still do, and it has nothing to do with religion.;

  96. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.”

    That jumps right into it, now doesn’t it?

  97. Dear friend,

    I am writing to you because she said you listen and understand and didn’t try to sleep with that person at that party even though you could have. Please don’t try to figure out who she is because then you might figure out who I am, and I really don’t want you to do that. I will call people by different names or generic names because I don’t want you to find me. I didn’t enclose a return address for the same reason. I mean nothing bad by this. Honest.

    I just need to know that someone out there listens and understands and doesn’t try to sleep with people even if they could have. I need to know that these people exist.

    Opening Sequence (more than just first line) of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

  98. I have always loved this first line (Poe, Fall of the House of Usher): DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher.

    …instant depression

  99. For me Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest gets second place after Marquez:
    “I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit. I didn’t think anything of what he had done to the city’s name. Later I heard men who could manage their r’s give it the same pronunciation. I still didn’t see anything in it but the meaningless sort of humor that used to make richardsnary the thieves’ word for dictionary. A few years later I went to Personville and learned better.”

  100. You included Fear and Loathing, The Stranger, and Cuckoo’s Nest…if those 3 aren’t on the list, I disregard the list! Great picks.

    Wish Laboratory approved.

    -Dr. Wishmael

  101. I’m quite fond of a few of W. Somerset Maugham’s openers, particularly:
    “I have never begun a novel with more misgiving. If I call it a novel it is only because I don’t know what else to call it. I have little story to tell and I end neither with a death nor a marriage.” (The Razor’s Edge)
    “I have never been able to feel for Charles Lamb the affection that he inspires in most of his readers.” (The Gentleman in the Parlour)
    But best of all from Maugham, for me, is the entire first chapter of The Narrow Corner:
    “All this happened a good many years ago.”
    That’s it. That’s chapter 1.

  102. ‘The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.’

    – The Gunslinger, book one of The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King

  103. Pingback: My Favorite Opening Line – The Classics Club’s June meme | Surgabukuku

  104. “The sun is shining in the office of Heinrich Kroll and Sons, Funeral Monuments.”
    The Black Obelisk, translated into English by Denver Lindley

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