Thursday, April 21, 2011

Epic First Lines

For anyone that knows me really well knows that my memory is shit, and I don't mean that in a facetious sort of way. I mean I took a hit to the head when I was 18 that cracked out my short term memory nearly completely for about 3 months until it started to trickle back in. I'm going to be generous and say I'm functioning at about 80% of what someone my age should be remembering. Now, that hinders a lot of things for me, especially remembering books.

If I remember a book without repetition (meaning I've only read it once) and I can fawn over it again and again and again, then it's made one hell of an impression on my tired, overworked brain. Different things about different books make me love them. For some, I don't start loving it until a few chapters in (Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick, for instance, took me a little bit to get into but holy shit, one of the best books I've ever read). Some don't hook me until the last paragraph (The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick, the book wasn't really making all that much sense until, literally, the last page where I went OMFG!).

And sometimes it's a first line (or first paragraph) that has me flicking at my lips making ba-ba noises. This is a compendium of some of those first lines/paragraphs I've collected. I'm sure they won't work for everyone but these . . . holy shit . . . for me they induced reader euphoria coupled with writer envy. Not fair.

So what do you think? Do you agree with my choices? Have any others?

Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson -

My dad named me Calle after a cat he had in college that ran away. He really loved that cat. I always thought that was funny since he was the one who ran away from me and my mom.

Girl Parts by John M. Cusick -

The room was empty and black save for the blue eyes of the computer and the yellow wedge beneath the door. Shapes crouched in the darkness - the dresser, a desk, a bed with adjacent night table. The bed had a lived-in look, the tousled sheets littered with crumbs and stained with ink, cola, coffee. The stars-and-moons
comforter lay bunched against the headboard along with a threadbare teddy bear and Mary Poppins pillow missing its spangles. Books and magazines were shoved to the wall, into the gap, along with countless socks, balled underwear, lost pens, scraps of paper, and secret journals, their pages bulging with ticket stubs and pasted photographs.

The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien -

First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pretending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Mountains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elusive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her professors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for
Chaucer and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letter weighed four ounces. They were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood that Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and move among his men, checking the perimeter, then at full dark he would return to his hole and watch the night and wonder if Martha was a virgin.

Fade to Blue by Sean Beaudoin -

The place was packed. I was in a lounge chair, Herb lay sprawled on the crusty cement, and Lake was wheeled between us, adjusting her tire pressure with little pfft pfft sounds. In the parking lot, minivans pulled up in rows, disgorging knock-knees and beach towels and sloshy coolers. The lifeguard repeatedly blew his whistle. Candy wrappers fluttered like moths. The water shimmered and the sun beamed and a breeze softly blew.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo -

At the end of the century before last, in the market square of the city of Baltese, there stood a boy with a hat on his head an a coin in his hand. They boy's name was Peter Augustus Duchene, and the coin that he held did not belong to him but was instead the property of his guardian, an old soldier named Vilna Lutz, who had sent the boy to the market for fish and bread.

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman -

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -

I am in all truthfulness attempting to be cheerful about this whole topic though most people find themselves hindered in believing me, no matter my protestations. Please, trust me. I most definitely can be cheerful. I can be amiable. Agreeable. Affable. And that's only the A's. Just don't ask me to be nice. Nice has nothing to do with me.

The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor -

The Queendom had been enjoying a tentative peace ever since the time, twelve years earlier, when unbridled bloodshed spattered the doorstep of every Wonderlander. The civil war hadn't been the longest in all of recorded history but no doubt it was one of the bloodiest. Those who had entered a little too quickly into the carnage and destruction had trouble adapting to life during peacetime. When hostilities ceased, they ran amok on the streets of Wonderland's capital city, looting and pillaging Wondertropolis until Queen Genevieve had them rounded up and shipped off to the Crystal Mines - a spiderweb-like network of tunnels carved in a far-off mountainside, where those unwilling to abide by the laws of decent society lived in windowless dormitories and labored to excavate crystal from the unforgiving mountain. Even after these people were taken off the streets, the peace that settled on Wonderland was nothing like that which had existed before the war. A third of Wondertropolis' quartz-like buildings had to be rebuilt. The smooth turquoise amphitheater had suffered damage in an air raid, as had the public works towers and spires sporting fiery, reflective pyrite skin. But the scars of war are not always visible. Although Queen Genevieve ruled her queendom judiciously, with care for the well-being of her people, the monarchy had been forever weakened. The coalition of Diamond, Club and Spade dynasties that made up Parliament was falling apart. The matriarchs of the families were jealous of Genevieve's power. Each thought she could rule Wonderland better than the queen. Each watched and waited for an opportunity to wrest control from her, keeping a none-too-friendly eye on the other families in case they happened to make a move first.

Light Beneath Ferns by Anne Spollen

This story does not teach a lesson. It does not explain gravity or the pack rituals of wolves or how the sun will explode one day and it leaves us all inside a gray welt of ice and famine. It will not make you popular or get you invitations to parties, if you are after that sort of thing. If death and the dead make you afraid, you better just stop reading and go take a nap. If bones scare you, you cannot read this book. At all. Because, really, things started happening just a little after I found that bone.

The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima -

Han Alister squatted next to the steaming mud spring, praying that the thermal crust would hold his weight. He'd tied a bandanna over his mouth and nose, but his eyes still stung and teared from the sulfur fumes that boiled upward from the bubbling ooze. He extended his digging stick toward a patch of plants with bilious green flowers at the edge of the spring. Sliding the tip under the clump, he pried it from the mud and lifted it free, dropping it into the deerskin bag that hung from his shoulder. Then, placing his feet carefully, he stood and retreated to solid ground.

Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

It begins, as most things begin, with a song.

In the beginning, after all, were the words, and they came with a tune. That was how the world was made, how the void was divided, how the lands and the stars and the dreams and the little gods and the animals, how all of them came into the world.

They were sung.

The Devil's Kiss by Sarwat Chadda

Killing him should be easy; he's only six.
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