What an opener!

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane AustenWhat makes a book so good that you do not want to put it down, as opposed to one that you will not continue beyond the first page?

Is it about having ‘readability’, that elusive, subjective concept that was so much talked about in selecting last year’s Booker Prize winner?

Or perhaps it all comes down to the opening lines, for that is where the author has to win over the reader, to interest and intrigue them sufficiently that they will want to see what happens next.

The Guardian recently published their list of The Top Ten First Lines in Fiction – we have others… Here are ten favourite opening lines or paragraphs, selected by Westminster Libraries staff. What have we missed? What are your favourite first lines?

  1. Nineteen eighty-four, by George Orwell‘It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.’
    Nineteen Eighty-four, by George Orwell.
  2. ‘I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.’
    Inverted World, by Christopher Priest
  3. The war of the worlds, by HG Wells‘No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that human affairs were being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own: that as men busied themselves about their affairs they were scrutinised and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinise the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.’
    The War of the Worlds, by HG Wells
  4. ‘I come from Des Moines, Iowa. Someone had to.’
    The Lost Continent, by Bill Bryson
  5. Brave new world, by Aldous Huxley‘A squat grey building of only thirty-four storeys. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.’
    Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  6. ‘It’s always a little startling to hear your name in a public place, and Vanderdecker froze. The beer in his glass didn’t, and the froth splashed his nose. He put the glass down and listened.’
    Flying Dutch, by Tom Holt
  7. The crow road, by Iain Banks‘It was the day my grandmother exploded.’
    The Crow Road, by Iain Banks
  8. ‘It was a nice day.
    All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn’t been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.’
    Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
  9. ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’
    The Go-between, by LP Hartley
  10. Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch‘It started at one thirty on a cold Tuesday morning in January when Martin Turner, street performer and, in his own words, apprentice gigolo, tripped over a body in front of the West Portico of St. Paul’s at Covent Garden. Martin, who was none too sober himself, at first thought the body was that of one of the many celebrants who had chosen the Piazza as a convenient outdoor toilet and dormitory. Being a seasoned Londoner, Martin gave the body the ‘London once-over’ – a quick glance to determine whether this was a drunk, a crazy, or a human being in distress. The fact that it was entirely possible for someone to be all three simultaneously is why good-Samaritanism in London is considered an extreme sport – like base-jumping or crocodile-wrestling. Martin, noting the good-quality coat and shoes, had just pegged the body as a drunk when he noticed that it was in fact missing its head.’
    Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch

[Malcolm]

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12 responses to “What an opener!

  1. Nice perspective on which ones attract readers. 🙂 Hope you can review my attempt at writing novels.

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  2. “That should feed an army!” said Gran packing sandwiches, cakes, crisps and sweets into their rucksacks. From Rings Around Time – a children’s book.

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  3. I feel embarassed, the only opening line that I was able to identify was 3. War of the Worlds. I guess my favourite opening line is “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” Too easy to identify but also summarises the book, in a way.

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  4. Pingback: Last chance to guess the opening lines… | Books & the City

  5. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

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  6. 5. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (I think)
    8. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (Just finished it. It’s an amazing book. I highly recommend it.)

    My favorite opening line has to be:
    “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone
    Because it opened my mind to a whole new world of reading. 🙂

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    • Yup – well done!
      Did you know that you can now post reviews on our library catalogue? Click on the link to the book in the post, click on Add a Review and share your views 🙂

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  7. “A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.”
    Another unreserved recommendation.

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  8. Pingback: CityRead: London’s Biggest Book Club | Books & the City

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