Call me Ishmael...
August 29, 2004 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Opening Hooks. You're in the bookstore, browsing the shelves for... something. You don't know what, exactly, you're looking for but you'll recognize it when you see it. Picking a book at random you open to the first page and begin to read. Two hours later you're home in bed with a mug of sweet tea, still reading.
posted by thebabelfish (65 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
[a project by Grod and cmonkey]
posted by thebabelfish at 9:07 AM on August 29, 2004

"Call me Ishmael" was the first thing that popped into my mind before I read the post title and before it appeared first in the browse section of the link. It must be the all time best!
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2004

Is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon any good?
posted by Keyser Soze at 9:14 AM on August 29, 2004

Keyser Soze: I went and checked it out at the library because I liked the beginning from the site, but reading a little more, it didn't keep my interest. If the book wasn't hugely thick, I might have kept with it regardless.
posted by thebabelfish at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2004

"The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast."
--"Unnatural Causes", PD James
posted by RavinDave at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2004

Now that I've gotten past my gushing, obvious first comment, there's some great stuff here:

The Crow Road
Iain Banks

“It was the day my grandmother exploded.”
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:25 AM on August 29, 2004

Is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon any good?

One of the finest novels ever written.
posted by caddis at 9:33 AM on August 29, 2004

My vote for most memorable: We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert . . .

"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas"
posted by caddis at 9:38 AM on August 29, 2004

Some fave hooks (but not neccessarily fave books):

It's a new elevator, freshly pressed to the rails, and it's not built to fall this fast. -- Colson Whitehead, The Institutionist

The first thing I remember is being under something. -- Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

When I was seventeen and in full obedience to my heart's most urgent commands, I stepped far from the pathway of normal life and in a moment's time ruined everything I loved--I loved so deeply, and when love was interupted, when the incorporeal body of love shrank back in terror and my own body was locked away, it was hard for others to believe that a life so new could suffer so irrevocably. But now, years have passed and the night of August 12, 1967, still divides my life. -- Scott Spencer, Endless Love

If I am out of my mind, it's all right with me, thought Moses Herzog. -- Saul Bellow, Herzog

For a man of his age, fifty-two, he has, to his mind, solved the problem of sex rather well. -- J.M. Coetzee, Disgrace

I learned about the other Philip Roth on January 1988, a few days after the New Year, when my cousin Apter telephoned me in New York to say that Israeli raddio had reported that I was in Jerusalem attending the trial of John Demjanjuk, the man alleged to be Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka. -- Philip Roth, Operation Shylock

On most women flesh was flesh, but on her it was an invitation to dine. -- Mickey Spillane, I don't remember the book.
posted by dobbs at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2004

"It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It should have been, but that's the weather for you" - Good Omens.
posted by kaemaril at 9:54 AM on August 29, 2004

The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door. He took off his hat and came slowly forward. The floorboards creaked under his boots. In his black suit he stood in the dark glass where the lilies leaned so palely from their waisted cutglass vase. Along the cold hallway behind him hung the portraits of forebears only dimly known to him all framed in glass and dimly lit above the narrow wainscoting. He looked down at the guttered candlestub. He pressed his thumbprint in the warm wax pooled on the oak veneer. Lastly he looked at the face so caved and drawn among the folds of funeral cloth, the yellowed moustache, the eyelids paper thin. That was not sleeping. That was not sleeping. -- Cormac McCarthy, All the Pretty Horses.

Most vivid opening ever, ask me.
posted by gottabefunky at 10:08 AM on August 29, 2004

Beth Learned about her mother's death from a woman with a clipboard.
-- Walter Tevis, "The Queen's Gambit."

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colenel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (tr. Gregory Rabassa), "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all that other David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
-- J. D. Salinger, "Catcher in the Rye."

You'll probably think I'm making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I am or smarter or even luckier but I'm not.
-- Russell Banks, "Rule of the Bone."

This is how they looked: three girls propped up in three straight chairs.
-- Stephen Dobyns, "The Church of Dead Girls."
posted by grumblebee at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2004

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" by Mark Hadden. The title was enough for me.
posted by dopamine at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2004

He was born with a gift of laughter, and a sense that the world was mad.
--- Rafael Sabatini, "Scaramouche."
posted by SPrintF at 10:24 AM on August 29, 2004

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colenel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (tr. Gregory Rabassa), "One Hundred Years of Solitude."

Yes! Must read this again...
posted by at 10:27 AM on August 29, 2004

Congratulations, Grod and cmonkey! What a great project!
posted by taz at 10:30 AM on August 29, 2004

Is Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon any good?

One of the finest novels ever written.
posted by caddis at 6:33 PM CET on August 29

In my view it is wandering, somewhat aimless, but interesting. A grad student in 1983 may say it is "the finest," but that line has worn a little thin, much like DF Wallace's footnote special effects.

Here's the first paragraph from Jon Dos Passos U.S.A. trilogy:

The young man walks fast by himself through the crowd that thins into the night streets; feet are tired from hours of walking; eyes greedy for warm curve of faces, answering flicker of eyes, the set of a head, the lift of a shoulder, the way hands spread and clench; blood tingles with wants; mind is a beehive of hopes buzzing and stinging; muscles ache for the knowledge of jobs, for the roadmender's pick and shovel work, the fisherman's knack with a hook when he hauls on the slithery net from the rail of the lurching trawler, the swing of a bridgeman's arm as he slings down the whitehot rivet, the engineer's slow grip wise on the throttle, the dirtfarmer's use of his whole body when, whoaing the mules, he yanks the plow from the furrow. The young man walks by himself searching through the crowd with greedy eyes, greedy ears taut to hear, by himself, alone.
posted by the fire you left me at 10:54 AM on August 29, 2004

Okay ... forced me to bring out the big guns. My all-time fave opening:

"I flew home from Mazatlan on a Wednesday afternoon. As we approached Los Angeles, the Mexicana plane droped low over the sea and I caught my first glimpse of the oil spill. It lay on the blue water off Pacific Point in a free-form slick that seemed miles wide and many miles long. An offshore oil platform stood up out of its windward end like the metal handle of a dagger that had stabbed the world and made it spill black blood." --"Sleeping Beauty", Ross MacDonald
posted by RavinDave at 10:58 AM on August 29, 2004

Just about anything from Chuck Palahniuk. He can capture you in an instant.

What happens here is first going to piss you off. After that it just gets worse and worse. - Choke

Tyler gets me a job as a waiter, after that Tyler's pushing a gun in my mouth and saying, the first step to eternal life is you you have to die. - Fight Club

Also highly recommend Survivor. In fact, in this Amish in the City world we live in it couldn't be more appropriate. I figure that Tender Branson looks like Mose.
posted by geekyguy at 11:03 AM on August 29, 2004

"Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened."
-- Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible

"Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom."
-- Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

And what's probably the most memorable opening paragraph of any novel I've ever read (that hasn't already been mentioned above):

"'To be born again,' sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, 'first you have to die. Ho ji! Ho ji! To land upon the bosomy earth, first one needs to fly. Tat-taa! Taka-thun! How to ever smile again, if first you won't cry? How to win the darling's love, mister, without a sigh? Baba, if you want to get born again...' Just before dawn one winter's morning, New Year's Day or thereabouts, two real, full-grown, living men fell from a great height, twenty-nine thousand and two feet, towards the English Channel, without benefit of parachutes or wings, out of a clear sky."
-- Salman Rushdie, "The Satanic Verses"
posted by Johnny Assay at 11:06 AM on August 29, 2004

I remember being "hooked" by Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang:

"I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.
God willing I shall live to see you read these words to witness your astonishment and see your dark eyes widen and and your jaw drop when you finally comprehend the injustice we poor Irish suffered in this present age."
posted by transient at 11:14 AM on August 29, 2004

"Howdy, I'm the Holy Ghost. Talk about your omniscient narrators. What's the differential in me and a computer program writes poetry? None. Nothing. Time. The red-haired pretty-girl."

--Jack Butler, Living in Little Rock with Miss Little Rock

gotta re-read it now...
posted by mbd1mbd1 at 11:21 AM on August 29, 2004

"In five years, the penis will be obsolete." - John Varley, Steel Beach
posted by sharpener at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2004

"Jose Palacios, his oldest servant, found him floating naked with his eyes open in the purifying waters of his bath and thought he had drowned. He knew this was one of the many ways the General meditated, but the ecstasy in which he lay drifting seemed that of a man no longer of this world."

Garcia Marquez. The General in his Labyrinth
posted by vacapinta at 11:23 AM on August 29, 2004

Since Turtles all the way down beat me to my absolute favourite, I'll post another that I love:

"William Connor was standing outside a disused cattleshed on a bright Highland summer's morning, ankle-deep in cowshit, liquidised mercenary raining splashily down about his head from the crisp blue sky above." from One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night by Christopher Brookmyre.
posted by biscotti at 11:40 AM on August 29, 2004

“The young boys came early to the hanging.” (that's as close as I can remember it). The Pillars of the Earth by Kenn Follet. A good read but a great hook.
posted by bz at 11:58 AM on August 29, 2004

"What's your name?"
"What's your full name?"
"What's your first name?"
"Irwin. Irwin Fletcher. People call me Fletch."
"Irwin Fletcher, I have a proposition to make you. I will give you a thousand dollars for just listening to it. If you decide to reject the proposition, you just take the thousand dollars, go away, and never tell anyone we talked."
"Is it criminal?"
"Of course."
"Fair enough. For a thousand I can listen. What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to murder me."
Fletch said, "Sure."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2004

In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.

In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan
posted by sciurus at 12:30 PM on August 29, 2004

"The same week our fowls were stolen, Daphne Moran had her throat cut."
-- Ronald Hugh Morrieson, "The Scarecrow"
posted by Pigpen at 12:33 PM on August 29, 2004

Vse govoryat: Kreml', Kreml'. Oto vsekh ya slyshu pro nego, a sam ni razu ne videl.
[Everybody says "The Kremlin, the Kremlin." I hear about it from everybody, but me, I've never seen it once.]

The opening of Moskva-Petushki (badly translated as Moscow to the End of the Line), the great love-booze-and-death novel by Venedikt Erofeev. It's one of the funniest and most heartbreaking books I've ever read, and well worth reading even in the unimpressive H. William Tjalsma translation... but I see from the reader reviews at the Amazon link that there's another translation, Moscow Circles, translated by J.R Dorrel, that's supposed to be quite a bit better, so if you can find that, read it.

1. Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.

2. At the first gesture of morning, flies began stirring.

3. Never having known a mother, her mother had died when Janey was a year old, Janey depended on her father for everything and regarded her father as boyfriend, brother, sister, money, amusement, and father.

4. The sea is high again, with a thrilling flush of wind.

5. "Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

6. It was like so, but wasn't.

7. In Paradise, on the banks of the River of Time, the Lord of the Universe is playing ball with His archangels.

1. Kafka, The Trial
2. Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain
3. Kathy Acker, Blood and Guts in High School
4. Lawrence Durrell, Justine
5. Rose Macauley, The Towers of Trebizond
6. Richard Powers, Galatea 2.2
7. Nancy Willard, Things Invisible to See
posted by languagehat at 1:24 PM on August 29, 2004

Okay, which one of you wags submitted the dictionary entry?
posted by cmonkey at 1:42 PM on August 29, 2004

The sky above the port was the color of television, turned to a dead channel.

- Neuromancer, William Gibson

All this happened, more or less.

- Slaughter-House Five, Kurt Vonnegut

The seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm.

- Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

We were wanderers from the beginning.

- Pale Blue Dot, Carl Sagan

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
posted by mortisimo at 2:18 PM on August 29, 2004

1. When shall we three meet again, In thunder, lightning or in rain?
2. When the hurlyburly's done, When the battles lost and won.
3. That will be ere the set of sun.
1. Where the place?
2. Upon the heath.
3. There to meet with Macbeth.
1. I come, Graymalkin!
2. Paddock calls.
3. Anon!
All. Fair is foul and foul is fair. Hover through the fog and filthy air.

posted by vacapinta at 2:32 PM on August 29, 2004

Dear Anyone Who Finds This, Do not blame the drugs. It was not the fault of the drugs. I planned this way before the drugs were ever in my life. And do not blame Vicky Talluso. It was my idea to kill myself. All she ever did was give me a little push. If you are holding this book right now it means that everything came out the way I wanted it to. I got my happily ever after.

- Cruddy, Lynda Barry
posted by tsarfan at 2:42 PM on August 29, 2004

The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far Western than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prarie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a travelerr reaches them.
--Truman Capote, In Cold Blood.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 5:35 PM on August 29, 2004

When Augustus came out on the porch, the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake -- not a very big one. It had probably just been crawling around looking for shade when it ran into the pigs. They were having a fine tug-of-war with it, and its rattling days were over. The sow had it by the neck, and the shoat had the tail.

-- Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry
posted by joaquim at 5:39 PM on August 29, 2004

posted by quonsar at 5:41 PM on August 29, 2004

4. The sea is high again, with a thrilling flush of wind.

I was just about to enter this, LH. :) "...In the midst of winter you can feel the inventions of spring. A sky of hot nude pearl at midday, crickets in the sheltered places, and now the wind unpacking the great planes, ransacking the great planes..."

And tsarfan! I contributed Cruddy to the site, but jumped over the sort-of epigraph(s) and went to the beginning of the narrative... cheating a bit, but I love it so and wanted to share it.
posted by jokeefe at 6:02 PM on August 29, 2004

Two other favourites:

“I made my decision, abruptly, in the middle of one of Gareth Butcher's famous theoretical seminars. He was quoting Empedocles, in his plangent, airy voice. 'Here sprang up many faces without necks, arms wandered without shoulders, unattached, and eyes strayed alone, in need of foreheads.' He frequently quoted Empedocles, usually this passage. We were discussing, not for the first time, Lacan's theory of morcellement, the dismemberment of the imagined body. There were twelve postgraduates, including myself, and Professor Ormerod Goode. It was a sunny day and the windows were very dirty. I was looking at the windows, and I thought, I'm not going to go on with this anymore. Just like that. It was May 8th, 1994. I know that, because my mother had been buried the week before, and I'd missed the seminar on Frankenstein.”

The Biographer's Tale, A.S. Byatt

“My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5:58 p.m. on the 27th of December, 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old.”

Fifth Business, Robertson Davies
posted by jokeefe at 6:05 PM on August 29, 2004

He'd cut his throat with the knife. He'd near chopped off His hand with the meat cleaver. He couldnt object so I lit a Silk Cut. A sort of wave of something was going across me. There was fright but I'd daydreamed how I'd be.
Morvern Callar - Alan Warner

The scent and smoke of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling -- a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension -- becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.
Casino Royale - Ian Fleming
posted by bonaldi at 7:02 PM on August 29, 2004

Had to post to say that Fifth Business is such a great book. I think its time for a re-read.

Might as well add this too:

"It is not right that everyone should read the pages which follow; only a few will be able to savour this bitter fruit with impunity."

- Lautréamont, Chants of Maldoror
posted by vacapinta at 7:05 PM on August 29, 2004

Jackie Brown, at twenty-six, with no expression on his face, said he could get some guns. "I can get you your pieces probably by tomorrow night. I can get you, probably, six pieces. Tomorrow night. In a week or so, maybe ten days, another dozen...."

Not only did I devour The Friends of Eddie Coyle that night, but over the next three decades I bought every book George V. Higgins ever wrote. In hardcover. Still have them all.

Elmore Leornard considers Coyle the best crime novel ever written. "He [Higgins] opened my eyes, because of the way he starts scenes in the middle of things. And I loosened up my language and used obscenities that were appropriate for these people. I stopped worrying about my mother."

Then the bastard up and died on me. He was only 50-something, too. Unforgivable.
posted by mojohand at 7:20 PM on August 29, 2004

Every opening by Pat Conroy is sheer blissful poetry, crafted and polished to a perfect gem.
posted by five fresh fish at 7:23 PM on August 29, 2004

I added the opening of The Stone Raft, by Saramago.
posted by amberglow at 7:39 PM on August 29, 2004

On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen.

Riddley Walker, by Russell Hoban.
posted by kenko at 7:55 PM on August 29, 2004

It's a new elevator, freshly pressed to the rails, and it's not built to fall this fast. -- Colson Whitehead, The Institutionist

Um, you mean The Intuitionist?
posted by kayjay at 8:10 PM on August 29, 2004

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work. And in fact my hope was realized, up to a point; for I have seldom felt so carefree as I did then, walking for hours in the day through the thinly populated countryside, which stretches inland from the coast. I wonder now, however, whether there might be something in the old superstition that certain ailments of the spirit and of the body are particularly likely to beset us under the sign of the Dog Star. At all events, in retrospect I became preoccupied not only with the unaccustomed sense of freedom but also with the paralysing horror that had come over me at various times when confronted with the traces of destruction, reaching far back into the past, that were evident even in that remote place. Perhaps it was because of this that, a year to the day after I began my tour, I was taken into hospital in Norwich in a state of almost total immobility.

This paragraph continues for the next 14 pages. From The Rings of Saturn, W. G. Sebald, translated by Michael Hulse.
posted by kenko at 8:29 PM on August 29, 2004

I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly consider'd how much depended upon what they were then doing;–that not only the production of a rational Being was concern'd in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind;–and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost:—Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,—I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that, in which the reader is likely to see me.

Tristram Shandy, by Laurence Sterne.

I am noting down the matters which are in this document because the next life is approaching me swiftly—far from us be the evil thing and may the bad spirit not regard me as a brother!—and also because our likes will never be there again. It is right and fitting that some testimony of the diversions and adventures of our times should be provided for those who succeed us because our types will never there again nor any other life inIreland comparable to ours who exists no longer.

Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes' chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. I reflected on the subject of my spare-time literary activities. One beginning and one ending for a book was a thing I did not agree with. A good book may have three openings entirely dissimilar and inter-related only in the prescience of the author, or for that matter one hundred times as many endings.

The Poor Mouth and At Swim-Two-Birds, Flann O'Brien.
posted by kenko at 8:40 PM on August 29, 2004

"I have never seen anything like it: two little disks of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire."
JM Coetzee, Waiting for the Barbarians.
posted by philfromhavelock at 9:03 PM on August 29, 2004

The sky above the port was the color of television, turned to a dead channel.

A great opening line that has changed radically in meaning since it was written, through no fault of the author.
posted by kindall at 9:18 PM on August 29, 2004

Indeed, there's at least one line somewhere -- I think it's in one of Ken MacLeod's books in a description of Norlonto -- that re-uses the dead-channel to mean a perfect unruffled blue. Ken MacLeod or maybe Charlie Stross.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:48 PM on August 29, 2004

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

I know that grabbed me when I was seven.
posted by linux at 11:14 PM on August 29, 2004

“She resolved to end the love affair with Ramon tonight . . . summarily, like Martha Stewart ripping the sand vein out of a shrimp's tail . . . though the term "love affair" now struck her as a ridiculous euphemism . . . not unlike "sand vein," which is after all an intestine, not a vein . . . and that tarry substance inside certainly isn't sand . . . and that brought her back to Ramon.”

Dave Zobel, BLWC 2004
posted by bz at 11:28 PM on August 29, 2004

jokeefe beat me to one of my absolute favourite opening lines, the first one i thought of upon seeing this thread... it was an absolute treat to re-read The Deptford Trilogy (5th Business, The Manticore, World of Wonders) this summer. if i were to make a favourite books list, they'd be in the top 5.

“I was never so amazed in my life as when the Sniffer drew his concealed weapon from its case and struck me to the ground, stone dead.”

Murther and Walking Spirits, Roberston Davies

“The madness of an autumn prairie cold front coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen.”

The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
posted by t r a c y at 12:24 AM on August 30, 2004

oh and yes, what a great project Grod and cmonkey...!

i submitted 2 opening hooks but my second one was cut short so it's missing a sentence, which is weird since it wasn't nearly as long as some other submissions.
posted by t r a c y at 12:41 AM on August 30, 2004

"This is not for you" Mark Z Danilewski's House of Leaves
I bought House Of Leaves based solely on the blurb on the back.
Right at the top it said something along the lines of 'Brett Easton Ellis says this book is freaky'.
I thought - If the guy who wrote American Psycho thinks a book is freaky then I have to get it.
posted by longbaugh at 12:46 AM on August 30, 2004

"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

"'The cow is there,' said Ansell, lighting a match and holding it out over the carpet. No one spoke. He waited till the end of the match fell off. Then he said again, 'She is there, the cow. There, now.'"
E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey

"Keith Talent was a bad guy. Keith Talent was a very bad guy. You might even say that he was the worst guy. But not the worst, not the very worst ever. There were worse guys."
Martin Amis, London Fields
posted by onlyconnect at 12:58 AM on August 30, 2004

"Last night, I dreamed I went to Manderley again."
Rebecca (Daphne duMaurier).

I have long believed this to be the best opening in English literature, though Austen's P+P is a tighter runner-up.
posted by ZippityBuddha at 1:34 AM on August 30, 2004

"Some of us had been threatening our friend Colby for a long time, because of the way he had been behaving. And now he'd gone too far, so we decided to hang him." — Some Of Us HAd Been Threatening Our Friend Colby, Donald Barthelme.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 6:25 AM on August 30, 2004

"Beware the thoughts that come in the night. They aren't turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, derived from the most remote of sources. Take the idea of February 17, a day of canceled expectations, the day I learned my job teaching English was finished because of declining enrollment at the college, the day I called my wife from whom I'd been separated for nine months to give her the news, the day she let slip about her "friend" -- Rick or Dick or Chick. Something like that." -- Blue Highways, William Least Heat Moon.
posted by m@ at 8:13 AM on August 30, 2004

"Gormenghast, that is, the main massing of the original stone, taken by itself would have displayed a certain pondorous architectural quality were it possible to have ignored the circumfusion of those mean dwellings that swarmed like an epidemic around its outer walls. They sprawled over the sloping earth, each one half way over its neighbour until, held back by the castle ramparts, the innermost of these hovels laid hold on the great walls, clamping themselves thereto like limpets to a rock. These dwellings, by ancient law, were granted this chill intimacy with the stronghold that loomed above them. Over their irregular roofs would fall throughout the seasons, the shadows of time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets, and, most enormous of all, the shadow of the Tower of Flints. This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow."
--"Titus Groan," Mervyn Peake
posted by papercake at 9:19 AM on August 30, 2004

"My father said he saw him years later playing in a tenth-rate commercial league in a textile town in Carolina, wearing shoes and an assumed name. He'd put on fifty pounds and the spring was gone from his step in the outfield, but he could still hit. Oh, how that man could hit. No one has ever been able to hit like Shoeless Joe" - "Shoeless Joe" (became the movie Field of Dreams), Ray Kinsella

"My father's father was a Methodist minister. He was a tall, handsome, noble-looking man; he had a deep, beautiful voice. My father was an ardent atheist and admirer of Clarence Darrow. He skipped grades the way other boys skip class, he lectured my grandfather's flock on carbon 14 and the origin of species, and he won a full scholarship to Harvard at the age of 15." - "The Last Samurai", Helen Dewitt
posted by vito90 at 10:05 AM on August 30, 2004

It was inevitable; the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the pain of unrequited love.
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera
posted by buzzv at 10:50 AM on August 30, 2004

War fever ran high in the New England town to which we new, young officers from Plattsburgh were assigned, and we were flattered when the first citizens took us to their homes, making us feel heroic. Here was love, applause, war; moments sublime with intervals hilarious. I was part of life at last, and in the midst of the excitement I discovered liquor. -- Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 1, "Bill's Story"
posted by basilwhite at 11:17 AM on August 30, 2004

1. I was born in 1896 and my parents were married in 1919.

2. I ought to tell you at the beginning that I am not quite normal having had a violent experience at the age of nine.

3. Click! ... Here it was again! He was walking along the cliff at Hunstanton and it had come again ... Click! ...

4. Murder didn't mean much to Raven. It was just a new job. You had to be careful. You had to use your brains. It was not a question of hatred. He had only seen the Minister once: he had been pointed out to Raven as he walked down the new housing estate between the little lit Christmas trees, an old, rather grubby man without any friends, who was said to love humanity.

5. Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.

6. In retrospect I am strongly inclined to blame the whole thing on Umberto Eco.

1. J.R. Ackerley, My Father and Myself.
2. Jane Gardam, A Long Way from Verona.
3. Patrick Hamilton, Hangover Square.
4. Graham Greene, A Gun for Sale.
5. J.G. Ballard, High-Rise.
6. Jane Stevenson, Several Deceptions.
posted by verstegan at 2:48 PM on August 31, 2004

« Older The Mind Reels   | Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments