Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Books & Their Opening Lines

I made a commitment to reading as much as my schedule would allow in 2010. I read YA and adult novels exploring such issues as mental illness, racial discrimination, slavery, cultural identity, death, sex abuse, bi-racial dating and violence against women, to name a few.

Although I didn't read the tower of books I'd selected, I couldn't be happier with my choices. I learned that flashbacks and dream sequences don't work for me as a reader (I tend to skim over them), that a young narrator need not sound child-like, that it's possible to read straight-through to the end and still not care about the characters, and that a book will come alive in my hands when an author's voice has touched my heart.

I sat at my desk over the holiday thinking about these books, wondering, what, if anything they all had in common? For those of us learning The Craft we've been taught the importance of orienting the reader to our POV character's world, in the first page.

So I re-read some of these books' first pages, focusing on their opening lines. Before I knew it, I was jotting them down so I could further examine what language these authors used to pull me into their characters' worlds. Was it their use of descriptors, dialogue, action words -- all three? Or maybe it was something as simple as their being able to connect with me through voice?

My favorite from the list I compiled is from the last novel I read in 2010, Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian; the moment I read his opening line, I knew I'd connected with his main character; his character's voice and diction grabbed me.

Rather than keep this list to myself, I thought it would make a helpful post.

Have you committed to any reading goals for 2011 you'd like to share? Or maybe you have some favorite book opening lines? If you do, I'd love to hear about them.

Following is my list from 2010:


When he was thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm broken badly at the elbow.
TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee

But do you know how to craft fiction?
TRICKS by Ellen Hopkins

His hand came down upon my cheek hard and fast.
GOOD FORTUNE by Noni Carter

"Someone is following me."
SCARS by Cheryl Rainfield

Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.
SAVING CEECEE HONEYCUTT by Beth Hoffman

I was born with water on the brain.
THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie

My mother once told me that judgement was best left in the hands of God.
THE NOON GOD by Donna Carrick

Jason was going to Brain Camp.
THE TRUTH ABOUT FOREVER by Sarah Dessen

Mae Mobley was born on an early Sunday morning in August, 1960.
THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

For two weeks, I asked everyone I met if they thought long-distance relationships worked.
THE MOSTS by Melissa Senate

If you are white, are a girl or boy between the ages of nine and twelve, and according to a certain committee of mothers, are good enough to associate with Charleston's other good girls and boys, then Wednesday night is a busy night for you.
GIRLS IN TRUCKS by Katie Crouch

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen

The decision to separate seemed to happen overnight.
A YEAR BY THE SEA: THOUGHTS OF AN UNFINISHED WOMAN by Joan Anderson

The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it "the Riddle House," even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there.
HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE by J.K. Rowling

The moment Rebecca did learn she had a half sister she never knew existed -- a twenty-six-year-old half sister -- she was twirling (just one twirl, really) in a hand-me-down wedding gown and her beat-up Dansko clogs in her father's hospital room.
THE SECRET OF JOY by Melissa Senate

Everyone knows I'm perfect.
PERFECT CHEMISTRY by Simone Elkeles

The "green movement" is everywhere these days.
TWO SCOOPS IS JUST RIGHT by Alex Carrick

There were only two kinds of people in our town.
BEAUTIFUL CREATURES by Kami Garcia & Margaret Stohl

They said she killed herself.
THE HOLLOW by Jessica Verday

I guess the whole mess started around my birthday.
BORN CONFUSED by Tanuja Desai Hidier

How easy it was to disappear: a thousand trains a day entered or left Chicago.
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY: MURDER, MAGIC, AND MADNESS AT THE FAIR THAT CHANGED AMERICA by Erik Larson

The boy with the fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way toward the lagoon.
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding

The hottest day of the summer so far was drawing to a close and a drowsy silence lay over the large, square houses of Privet Drive.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX by J.K. Rowling

It was morning, and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.
JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL by Richard Bach, Russell Munson

The old aunts lounge in the white wicker armchairs, flipping open their fans, snapping them shut.
HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS by Julia Alvarez

It was a dark and stormy night.
A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle

A green and yellow parrot, which hung in a cage outside the door, kept repeating over and over: "Allez-vous-en! Allez-vous-en! Sapristi! That's all right!"
THE AWAKENING by Kate Chopin

Our hero was not one of those Dominican cats everybody's always going on about -- he wasn't no home-run hitter or a fly bachatero not a playboy with a million hots on his jock.
THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO by Junot Diaz

It was nearing midnight and the Prime Minister was sitting alone in his office, reading a long memo that was slipping through his brain without leaving the slightest trace of meaning behind.
HARRY POTTER AND THE HALF-BLOOD PRINCE by J. K. Rowling

According to Holly Maguire's late grandmother, revered on Blue Crab Island, Maine, for her fortune-telling as much as her cooking, the great love of Holly's life would be one of the few people on earth to like sa cordula, an Italian delicacy.
THE LOVE GODDESS' COOKING SCHOOL by Melissa Senate

You are dressed in a long, pale pink gown, not sleek and diva-ish, but princessy, with a puffy skirt of tulle and lace that makes you look like you're floating on air when you appear at the top of the stairs.
ONCE UPON A QUINCEANERA by Julia Alvarez

I been living on this here island my whole life long and aint never been off, which it dont bother me like some cause there plenty to do.
THE CONJURE MAN by Peter Damian Bellis

It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
THE BELL JAR by Sylvia Plath

"And your daddy isn't going to live with us anymore."
GIFTED HANDS: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carlson, M.D. with Cecil Murphey

The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.
HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS by J.K. Rowling

The trial was irretrievably over; everything that could be said had been said, but he had never doubted that he would lose.
THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face.  It is one of the few havens remaining where a man's mind can get both provocation and privacy.  -- Edward P. Morgan