The importance of having a strong beginning to any book, fiction or non-fiction, should never be underestimated. While some studies suggest that customers will buy a book based on the cover and blurb on the back, or familiarity of the author, I know myself that I will often open up a book and read through the first page or so before I make that final decision to buy it (or go home to order the book online, but that topic is for another blog, another day).
Over the past few years, there have been a few books with openings that have had this effect on me – have made me laugh or have made my eyebrows shoot upwards, and have caused me to not only buy the book but to read it as quickly as possible. In some cases it has been the first sentence on its own, in others, the first few lines. I wanted to share some of my favourites here, all of which are books I finished and enjoyed, and some of which have gone on to reside among my favourite books of all time.
- From The Long Dark Tea-Time Of The Soul by Douglas Adams:
“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on Earth has ever produced the expression “as pretty as an airport.”
- From The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry:
“I have a dark and dreadful secret. I write poetry.”
- From Catch 22 by Joseph Heller:
“It was love at first sight.
The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.
Yossarian was in the hospital with a pain in his liver that fell just short of being jaundice. The doctors were puzzled by the fact that it wasn’t quite jaundice. If it became jaundice they could treat it. If it didn’t become jaundice and went away they could discharge him. But this just being short of jaundice all the time confused them.”
- From Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall by Spike Milligan:
“September 3rd, 1939. The last minutes of peace ticking away. Father and I were watching Mother digging our air-raid shelter. ‘She’s a great little woman,’ said Father. ‘And getting smaller all the time,’ I added. Two minutes later, a man called Chamberlain who did Prime Minister impressions spoke on the wireless; he said, ‘As from eleven o’clock we are at war with Germany.’ (I loved the WE.) ‘War?’ said Mother. ‘It must have been something we said,’ said Father. The people next door panicked, burnt their post office books and took in the washing.”
- From The Restaurant At The End Of The Universe by Douglas Adams:
“The story so far:
In the beginning the Universe was created.
This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
- From Devices and Desires by K.J.Parker:
“‘The quickest way to a man’s heart,’ said the instructor, ‘is proverbially through his stomach. But if you want to get into his brain, I recommend the eye-socket.'”
- From Thank You, Jeeves by P.G.Wodehouse:
“I was a shade perturbed. Nothing to signify, really, but still just a spot concerned. As I sat in the old flat, idly touching the strings of my banjolele, an instrument to which I had become greatly addicted of late, you couldn’t have said that the brow was actually furrowed, and yet, on the other hand, you couldn’t have stated absolutely that it wasn’t. Perhaps the word ‘pensive’ about covers it. It seemed to me that a situation fraught with embarrassing potentialities had arisen.”
There are probably a lot more I could list, but these were the ones that jumped out at me from memory, before I even looked at my bookshelves. From the whacky humour of Douglas Adams and Spike Milligan, to the sweeping wordplay of Joseph Heller and P.G.Wodehouse, these authors all drew me into their stories right from the outset.
Do you have any particular books you remember for having brilliant opening lines? Please feel free to share if you do, or to comment on these ones I’ve just shared!