Thursday, August 11, 2011

Best Pick-Up Lines

Originally posted on my livejournal March 7, 2011

"You are only as good as your opening line."  Richard Peck came up with that little gem of authorial advice.  In a way he's right.  The first sentence of a book is like a pick-up line.  The bad ones might totally turn you off.  The ones that seem like they are trying too hard to grab your attention, likewise.  Some are just okay but you are willing to give them more time to convince you.  Then there are those that are perfect in every way and make you want to take them home with you.  With Peck's quote in mind, beth_shulman wrote this post  in which she looked at the first lines of several of her favorite books to test the validity of the hypothesis.  This in turn got  me thinking about all of those first lines of books that grabbed my attention.  The ones that made me want to devour whatever came next.  The ones that have stuck with me.  And do you know what?  Every one of them come from books that I treasure.

"I didn't know how long I had been in the king's prison."An enticing opening that is followed by the most wonderful first paragraph of a novel ever.  The first time I read this book I reread that first paragraph several times before I moved on.  Each time I go back to read it I start grinning like an idiot.  Why?  Because I'm that happy to have Gen's voice back in my head.

"That fool of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me."When I first read this line I couldn't help but think, "Oh, I'm going to love this."  I was not disappointed.

"My father took one hundred and thirty-two minutes to die."This one kind of kicks you in the solar plexus.  Particularly when you follow it with the second which is, "I counted."  It's so sad and yet so gripping.  You absolutely can not stop reading. 

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."
C.S. Lewis, how I love him.  In one brilliant short line he introduces a new character and sums up his personality too.  And definitely makes you want to know what about Eustace makes him almost, but not quite, deserving of that name.

"There were crimson roses on the bench, they looked like splashes of blood."
How can you not want to keep reading after a line like that?  I will admit that what follows in the first chapter is a little dull but the rest of the book lives up to that first line.

"There is no lake at Camp Green Lake."I taught Holes to my fifth graders.  It was the first reading unit of the year, as a matter of fact.  I usually introduced it on the third day of school and we spent most of that reading period analyzing and discussing this one line.  Really.

"In the history of the world there have been lots of onces and lots of times, and every time has had a once upon it."N.D. Wilson mentioned in an interview that I read that he came up with this line while brushing his teeth.  He immediately went to write it down.  A while later his wife came looking for him wondering why he hadn't come to bed and found him at his desk writing the first chapters of a novel with a mouth full of toothpaste.  I wish brushing my teeth was that enlightening an experience for me.

"It was a dark and stormy night."
This one is a classic.  I still remember the first time I read those words.  This started an obsession with Madeleine L'Engle's work I've never recovered from (and have no desire to).

I was in middle school the first time read this.  It is so poetic, and at the same time so tongue in cheek.

"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..."
All right, so this wasn't how I originally read this line.  I first read this book in its Great Illustrated Classics form, which means it was abridged.  I wish I still had my copy so I could compare.  I don't think it was too far off though.  I remember being intrigued by the flow of opposites.  I memorized it in that form and then when I was in middle school I memorized the actual version.


  1. These are all fantastic!! I've only read one of N.D. Wilson's books, and I'm eager to read more.

    1. I have loved every single one of his books so far.

  2. Hello, JELLICOE ROAD. Welcome to the top of my TBR.