Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Lines -- What are your favorites?

I've fallen in love with the first line.  But like an unfaithful lover, I'm flitting from book to book, creating a list of my *all*time*favorites.  I thought I'd give you a few of my favorites, and hope that you will respond with your favorites.

"The morning air off the Mojave in late winter is as clean and crisp as you'll ever breathe in Los Angeles County."  Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly.

"Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."  The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown.

"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 Stone by J.K. Rowling.

"It was Father Martin's idea that I should write an account of how I found the body." Death in Holy Orders by P.D. James.

"Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall, taking car to keep to one side, out of sight of the kitchen."  The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman.

"The scream that pierced the dull yellow November sky was preternaturally high-pitched." In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff.

"Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"  - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll.

Why these first lines?  No reason, except I've read each of these books at least three times and cannot figure out why.  Do you think the first line set a hook that can never be removed?

What are some of your favorite first lines?  What makes a first line compelling for you?


Joyce said...

One of my favorite first lines is from The Winter of Her Discontent by former Working Stiff, Kathryn Miller Haines: "Some guys brought you flowers; Al brought meat." I'm really going to miss this series!

C.L. Phillips said...

I really love that line. And it's a book I have not read. Adding to the TBR list!

Joyce said...

Read the whole series, Cindy. It's a hoot!

C.L. Phillips said...

Which book should I start with? I like to start with the first in the series.

Gina said...

C.L. -

The first in KMH's series is The War Against Miss Winter; they are all great fun to read. Kathy captures the 1940s style of speaking perfectly.

I have many favorite first lines, but since I'm at work, I don't have any of my books available, nor can I take sufficient time to search on-line, so I'll have to fall back on an old favorite that I know by heart. It's from Black Beauty, the first real book I ever read:

The first place that I can well remember is a large, pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees hung over it, and rushes and water lilies grew at the deep end.

C.L. Phillips said...


Thank you so much for that line from Black Beauty and the recommendation. That you remembered the first line by heart gives me the ah-hhh sound and feeling.

Ramona said...

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." - Rebecca

"In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together." - The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

"Mother died today." - The Stranger

"Elmer Gantry was drunk." - Elmer Gantry

I like first lines that get right into the story.

Good post, C.L.

Karen in Ohio said...

Ramona, your first two are first lines I also remember as perfect.

A good first line hooks you right into the story, and compels you to read the next one, and the next one, and so on.

But you know that. :-)

C.L. Phillips said...


Wow - I've got to read each of these books. The first lines are *amazing*. But first, I'm starting with Miss Winter.

Thanks for posting these gems.

Karen in Ohio said...

Brunonia Barry's new book, A MAP OF TRUE PLACES, starts this way:

"In the years when her middle name was Trouble, Zee had a habit of stealing boats."

C.L. Phillips said...


I want to meet Zee! Thanks for this.

Patg said...

Granted some first lines are intriguing, but they never influence me. Been burnt too often. Read the blurb, read first paragraph, and then open the book to the middle, read a paragraph, then read the very last line of the story.
Y'all mentioned some great first lines--had forgotten all of them.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

One of my favorite first lines:

There are some men who enter a woman's life and screw it up forever. Joseph Morelli did this to me - not forever, but periodically.

Okay, so it's two...

C.L. Phillips said...


You have a good point about looking at more than the first line. Maybe I'll have to do a post about great books with less-than-stellar first lines.


Every woman has at least one Morelli in her romantic history. I think that's the secret to Evanovich's staying power.

Jennie Bentley said...

I tried to do this this morning, but Blogger refused me...

I agree with Freddy: Janet Evanovich has some good ones. My personal fave is from #8: "Lately I've spent a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth."

In the darker realm, Julia Spencer-Fleming's first line (of the whole series) is killer: "It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby." Who could resist continuing after that?

And that is the purpose of a first line, of course. I did a first line post myself once, but I think that was on the now defunct Good Girls Kill For Money Club.

So has anyone else had problems with Blogger not accepting comments?

C.L. Phillips said...

I've seen folks having problems on other blogs today. Maybe the winds are blowing ill in blogger-land.

I love the personal growth line. And throwing away a baby? Sure hope that book was a thriller.

Thanks for perservering!

Annette said...

Sorry to be a day late to the party, but I was at our camp in Confluence and couldn't put my hands on the book I wanted to quote.

My favorite opening line (other the one from Kathy MH that Joyce already mentioned) is from Lisa Scottoline's Devil's Corner: Vicki Allegretti always wondered what it would feel like to look into the barrel of a loaded gun, and now she knew.

C.L. Phillips said...


I love that line. Gotta get that book too!