Ever since I began looking at books from a writer’s perspective (in addition to a reader’s), I’ve heard that a book’s first line is the best way to hook or lose your reader. So much so that, in this economy, many books make it or break it based on their opening words.
No pressure for the writer, huh?
Are we so desperate for immediate gratification that we’d put away a book we’ve committed to reading, only because its first few words failed to impress us?
Whatever happened to: “Don’t judge a book by its first line?” Okay, I made that up but that’s how I feel sometimes. But then, I’ve also never subscribed to the belief: First impressions are the best impressions.
Besides, whether a sentence does it for you or not, I think, is entirely subjective.
I’ve yet to set aside a book because its first line didn’t live up to my expectations. Having said that, I have come across books that opened with much promise in their very first words—they tickled my imagination about what genre they could be; whether I needed to suspend my reality and wear my fantastical hat; or if I should to tighten my seat belt and prepare for a breathless ride through a culture foreign to me.
There have also been times when my first impressions proved to be completely baseless in how clever/satisfactory/feel-good-read the book turned out to be in the end.
Here are the first lines from some books in my bookshelf, in no particular order.
- The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum.
The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan
- In a town called Stonetown, near a port called Stonetown Harbor, a boy named Reynie Muldoon was preparing to take an important test.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart
- He left the coffee-scented warmth of the Main Street Grill and stood for a moment under the green awning.
At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon
- Nailer clambered through a service duct, tugging at copper wire and yanking it free.
Ship Breaker, Paolo Bacigalupi
- Precious Ramotswe was sitting at her desk at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone.
The Full Cupboard of Life, Alexander McCall Smith
- Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.
The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
- The conch shell sounded, like the mountain’s deep call to the sky, and Mira knew they had entered the palace.
Follow the Cowherd Boy, J.A. Joshi
- “Eh, Tree-Ear! Have you hungered well today?” Crane-man called out as Tree-ear drew near the bridge.
A Single Shard, Linda Sue Park
Has the first line in a book ever impressed you adversely enough to stop reading that book?