Saturday, August 2, 2008


Scott Westerfeld ( has a recent post about beginnings, and SFP at Pages Turned has a recent post about endings. And they've gotten me thinking about how I choose books. Most often, of course, it's because I read the first paragraph and get hooked. When I started thinking about the beginnings that hooked me most quickly, I decided to share some of my favorites, the ones that stick in my memory:

C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

William Goldman, The Princess Bride
This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

John Scalzi, Old Man's War
I did two things on my seventy-fifth birthday. I visited my wife's grave. Then I joined the army.

Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul
It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression "As pretty as an airport."

Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest. I'd half-awaken. He'd stick his skull under my nose and purr, stinking of urine and blood. Some nights he kneaded my bare chest with his front paws, powerfully, arching his back, as if sharpening his claws, or pummeling a mother for milk. And some mornings I'd wake in daylight to find my body covered with paw prints in blood; I looked as though I'd been painted with roses.

Roald Dahl, Matilda
It's a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.
Some parents go further. They become so blinded by adoration they manage to convince themselves their child has qualities of genius.
Well, there is nothing very wrong with all this. It's the way of the world. It is only when the parents begin telling us about the brilliance of their own revolting offspring that we start shouting, "Bring us a basin! We're going to be sick!"

Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair
My father had a face that could stop a clock. I don't mean that he was ugly or anything; it was a phrase the ChronoGuard used to describe someone who had the power to reduce time to an ultraslow trickle. Dad had been a colonel in the ChronoGuard and kept his work very quiet. So quiet, in fact, that we didn't know he had gone rogue at all until his timekeeping buddies raided our house one morning clutching a Seize & Eradication order open-dated at both ends and demanding to know where and when he was.

Barbara Kingsolver, The Bean Trees
I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbine's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign. I'm not lying. He got stuck up there. About nineteen people congregated during the time it took for Norman Strick to walk up to the Courthouse and blow the whistle for the volunteer fire department. They eventually did come with the ladder and haul him down, and he wasn't dead but lost his hearing and in many other ways was never the same afterward. They said he overfilled the tire.

Walker Percy, Love In the Ruins
Now in these dread latter days of the old violent beloved U.S.A. and of the Christ-forgetting Christ-haunted death-dealing Western world I came to myself in a grove of young pines and the question came to me: has it happened at last?
Two more hours should tell the story. One way or the other. Either I am right and a catastrophe will occur, or it won't and I'm crazy. In either case the outlook is not so good.

Reynolds Price, Kate Vaiden
The best thing about my life up to here is, nobody believes it. I stopped trying to make people hear it long ago, and I'm nothing but a real middle-sized white woman that has kept on going with strong eyes and teeth for fifty-seven years. You can touch me; I answer. But it got to where I felt like the first woman landed from Pluto--people asking how I lasted through all I claimed and could still count to three, me telling the truth with an effort to smile and then watching them doubt it. So I've kept quiet for years.

These are some of my favorites, from memory (although I did look them up to get the words right). Tell me some of your favorite beginnings.


mythusmage said...

Ingolf Vogeler slapped his horse affectionately on the neck; he felt a little better now that the rain had stopped, even though it was the tag end of a chilly October day with a ragged sky the color of damp raw wool rolling in from the west. His gloved hand made a wet smack on his mount's mud-spattered coat; its breath smoked in the harsh wet air, and so did his. The hooves beat with a slow clop-crunch on the good crushed rock of the road, sending up little spurts of muddy water whitish gray with limestone dust.

S.M. Stirling, The Sunrise Lands

harriet M. Welsch said...

The Dillard and Goldman are two of my favorites as well. Two other favorites that I can recite from memory because they are so commonly spoken: 1. "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." (Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice) and "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities). More recently, I have loved "Let me telly ou another story. Although I do not know whether that is possible, not after all that has been written and said, but at any rate let me try. I have balked at it for long enough, I admit. I have put it off and put it off. But I have to do it. KKnowing full well that this will sound unutterably provocative and appallingly high-flown, I will be straight about it: I do it not only for myself but for the whole of Norway." (Jan Kjaerstad, The Seducer). I'm sure there are others, but those are the ones that spring to mind today.

Anonymous said...

My two favorites are both from the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan.

The Friday before winter break, my mom packed me an overnight bag and a few deadly weapons and took me to a new boarding school. - The Titan's curse

The last thing I wanted to do on my summer break was blow up another school. but there I was Monday morning, the first week of June, sitting in my mom's car in front of Goode High School on East 81st. - The Battle of the Labyrinth

Libby said...

There's the classic: "Where's Papa going with that ax?" which is not the entire first sentence of Charlotte's Web but pulls you right in. And I've always liked “One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it—it was the black kitten’s fault entirely,” which is the first line of Through the Looking Glass.

Ron Griggs said...

"He was born with the gift of laughter and the sense that the world was mad." This is the opening line of Scaramouche by Rafael Sabatini.

KD said...

My husband and I used the _Dawn Treader_ line as inspiration while awaiting the birth of our boy. Rather than announce a name and have friends/family comment on it, we called our lump Eustace on the theory that whatever we settled on at his birth would seem infinitely acceptable in comparison!

Jeanne said...

Oh, what a good decoy name. We told people false names too--my daughter's was the name of the plane that delivered the atomic bomb, which made the initials "EGG," and we called my son "Elvis Rex" before he appeared.