Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Lists and Favorite First Lines

I love lists.

I was probably one of the first people to buy the original "The Book of Lists" by David Wallechinsky, Irving Wallce and Amy Wallace when it first hit the stands back in the 70s.    I think there have been 5 (maybe 6?) versions of the book since the original.  The original version was one of those "Banned Books" I blogged about a few days ago.  It was controversial due to a chapter on the pros and cons of different sexual positions.

I have a list going for one thing or another all the time.  Can't take a trip without making a list of things to pack and scratching things off the list as they're tossing into the suitcase.

But there are lots of us out there who are lovers (and makers) of lists.  

Including, of course, librarian extraordinaire Nancy Pearl.  She's a hero of mine.  There's even a Nancy Pearl Action Hero.  Now how very cool is that?!. 

In addition to her books of lists of books she's famous for, she's also done a list of her favorite first lines, several of which are some of my favorites also - - - 

"The last camel collapsed at noon."  The Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett.

"I write this sitting in the kitchen sink."  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

"We don't get much snow, and we hardly ever murder one another. Suicide is more our style..."  Uncivil Seasons by Michael Malone

"When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon."  The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley 

I just love it when I pick up a book and it has an amazing first line.

There are come classics that are quite well known for their first lines, and a few of the most famous of these are - - - 

"Call me Ishmael."  Moby Dick by Herman Melville

"Elmer Gantry was drunk."  Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."  Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

and one of my own personal favorites:

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?"  Lace by Shirley Conran

The book I'm reading right now, Deborah Lawrenson's THE LANTERN, has not only what I think is a great first line, but a great first paragraph.

"Some scents sparkle and then quickly disappear, life the effervescence of citrus zest or a bright note of mint.  Some are strange siren songs of rarer origin that call from violets hidden in woodland,or irises after spring rain.  Some scents release a rush of half-forgotten memories.  And then there are the scents that seem to express truths about people and places that you have never forgotten: the scents that make time stand still."

And here's what Deborah Lawrenson has to say about the book"The Lantern is a modern gothic novel, inspired by a crumbling hamlet in Provence. When I began writing, it was going to be an homage to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with its young heroine who finds her man becomes more mysterious to her the longer she is with him.

Along the way it became a novel about perfume and blindness and the past life of houses, and also about books, reading and the imagination.

And while the story was all in my mind, the beauty of the Luberon region that provides the backdrop was just there to be captured in words… "

How 'bout you guys?  Do you have some favorite first lines??  Let's hear them, please!


le0pard13 said...

"Which one of you bitches is my mother?"

That is one great first line! I can't top that, but this first entry from an underrated Robert Crais novel, Chasing Darkness, was pretty good, and spoke familiar to those us who live in the City of the Angels:

"Beakman and Trenchard could smell the fire -- it was still a mile away, but a sick desert wind carried the promise of Hell."

LJ Roberts said...

I have read a lot of great opening lines and paragraphs. However the one that that always comes to mind immediately, whenever this question is asked, is:

"Countess Judith kept her husband's head in a box. At night it perched on the pillow by her side, at meals it sat on the board by her plat, and her household feared it almost as much as they feared her. She talked to it, they whispered among themselves, and who was to say it didn't answer?"

From The Gleemaiden
The third and final book by Sylvian Hamilton.

Not only do I dearly wish she had lived to write more books, as I loved each of the three but, from reading her short bookjacket bio, Ms. Hamilton is a person I would love to have known.