18 September 2006

Once Upon a Time

Arcadia is my list muse. The first sentence is what inspires you to read the rest of the book, isn't it? I have therefore prepared a list of some of my favourite opening lines from books. I've permitted myself more than a single sentence in instances where I think the essence of the opening passage is not captured merely before the first period. You'll notice that I adore books that start off with high tension. There is tension regarding a character's identity, their past, their future or their motivation. Tension is created by change, the sense that everything's going to be irrevocably different from now onwards. Vonnegut's characters who have to want something on every page. Enjoy.

1. The Bridge of San Luis Rey - Thornton Wilder [1927]
"On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travellers into the gulf below."

2. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons [1932]
"The education bestowed on Flora Poste by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged; and when they died within a few weeks of one another during the annual epidemic of the influenza or Spanish Plague which occured in her twentieth year, she was discovered to possess every art and grace save that of earning her own living."

3. The Outsider - Albert Camus [1942]
"Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don't know."

4. The Master and Margarita - Mikhail Bulgakov [1967]
"At the hour of the hot spring sunset two citizens appeared at the Patriach's Ponds."

5. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez [1967]
"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."

6. Tales of the City - Armistead Maupin [1980]
"Mary Ann Singleton was twenty-five years old when she saw San Francisco for the first time."

7. Less Than Zero - Bret Easton Ellis [1985]
"People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles."

8. The Object of My Affection - Stephen McCauley [1987]
"Nina and I had been living together in Brooklyn for over a year when she came home one afternoon, announced she was pregnant, tossed her briefcase to the floor and flopped down on the green vinyl sofa."

9. A Home at the End of the World - Michael Cunningham [1990]
"Once our father bought a convertible. Don't ask me. I was five."

10. The Secret History - Donna Tartt [1992]
"The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation."

11. A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton [1994]
"I used to think if you fell from grace it was more likely than not the result of one stupendous error, or else an unfortunate accident. I hadn't learned that it can happen so gradually you don't lose your stomach or hurt yourself in the landing."

12. The Dead Heart - Douglas Kennedy [1994]
"I had never seen so many tattoos."

13. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil - John Berendt [1994]
"He was tall, about fifty, with darkly handsome, almost sinister features: a neatly trimmed mustache, hair turning silver at the temples, an eyes so black they were like the tinted windows of a sleek limousine - he could see out, but you couldn't see in."

14. Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk [1996]
"Tyler gets me a jo as a waiter,after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you have to die."

15. The House of Sleep - Jonathan Coe [1997]
"It was their final quarrel, that much was clear."

16. Devil's Valley - André P. Brink [1998]
"'I been sitting here, waiting for you,' said the old man, not bothering to look at me."

17. Coast - Matthew Branton [2000]
"It started the day the Indian boys fell out of the sky."

18. Emotionally Weird - Kate Atkinson [2000]
"My mother is a virgin. (Trust me.)"

19. Orchid Fever - Eric Hansen [2000]
"There is something distinctive about the sight and sound of a human body falling from the rain forest canopy."

20. Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides [2002]
"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."


Triggermap said...

Very cool blog you have. Read most the books on your list, but a few never even heard of. Since we seem to have similar reading taste, I'll try some the others I haven't. Thanks!

gm said...

Jou lys is onverbeterbaar. Cold Comfort Farm! Ja! En One Hundred Years het vir my een van die beste eerste lyne - ek het dit al baie opgetel en net die eerste bladsy of so herlees.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Beat me to it... Great list! I have to say though, after those opening lines of Cold Comfort I just couldn't get into the rest. I'll give it another try though...

Marissa said...

Wat 'n mooi cover vir "The Secret History". Die een wat ek het, is moontlik die lelikste cover wat nog ooit daglig gesien het. Dit feature onder meer 'n perskekleurige roos.

arcadia said...

aarggghhh. lovely. en jy sê altyd die mooiste dinge.

AristoNeeks said...

quick question: do you buy all the books you read?

my interest is piqued, but my pockets desolate...

twanji said...

I love it... I have never actually thought about how powerful the opening lines of a book can be in-detail.
Do we stock any of Armistead Maupin's stuff? I read the 'Night Listener' a while back, but couldn't find any of his stuff on Kronos - help me out if you can!!
Thanks :)

Unknown said...

Why, thank you! I try to think of it as a garden of delights, but it's a little weedy and overgrown of late. Reason being that I'm currently writing up my thesis and the damn Russian wheat aphids won't let me be.

En blykbaar het meeste van die goed in die boek werklik met Marquez gebeur. Ongelooflik om so 'n wonderlike vol lewe te gehad het.

karen little:
Sorry, I kind of did this post in 15 minutes after my lab meeting - which explains the lack of creativity. 'Cold Comfort Farm' is one of the funniest books I ever read; it's hard to believe that it's that old.

Ja, dit is pragtig (en terloops ook identies aan die 1ste uitgawe). Die slapband wat ek besit het 'n verbeeldinglose swart voorblad met so 'n klein Klassieke cameo as die enigste detail. Joune klink maar vile. Ek het dit nog nie gesien nie.

Dis omdat jy dit verdien. Daar is min mense online wat konsekwent briljant is, en jy is een van hulle.

I invariably buy all the things I read (it's the collector's disease, see). I own all of the books I mentioned here, and yes, my pocket is quite, quite empty. But my brain and heart are overflowing. *puking noises from neko*

Read the Tales of the City series. It's old by now, but still very funny and all about what Ing's friend Matty calls "Gay Town USA".

Lexi said...

very cool list........cold comfort farm seems amazing must go find a copy

stroibessi said...

Aitsa! Ongelooflike plasing!
ek het twee gunstelinge van my eie:

"I am Dina who sees the sleigh with the person on it rush headlong down the steep slope.
At frist I think I am the one lying there tied to the sleigh. Because I feel pain more terrible than any I have ever known."
Dina`s Book deur Hebjorg Wassmo.

en ook:

Will someone please explain why we are here? - What are we going to eat? - Who is in charge here? Let me speak to him!
A 747 had disgorged its 323 passengers into the middle of a vacant, snow-brushed tarmac expanse, left them to trudge across it through the cold and the floodlit glare to a terminus whose neon name was only illuminated in patches and anyway was in a language most of them could not read; had abandoned them, in short, in the Middle of Nowhere, in a place that was Free of Duty but also, much more importantly, devoid of any obvious egress, like a black corridor between two worlds, two somewheres, where people only alighted when something was seriously kaput with the normal eschatological machinery."
Tokyo Cancelled deur Rana Dasgupta.