Great opening lines to books

April 13, 2011 by Joshua
in Art, Creativity

I like memorable opening lines to books. Good ones can be poetry, or a whole book into themselves. Sometimes they set the tone for the book. Others are simply memorable for their simplicity.

Some of my favorite (some from memory so please correct errors):

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant day when his father took him to discover ice.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude

It was inevitable. The scent of bitter almonds always reminded Dr. Juvenal Urbino of the fate of unrequited love.” – Love in the Time of Cholera

Call me Ishmael.” – Moby Dick

Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin. My soul. The tip of the tongue takes a trip of three steps down the palate to tap at three on the teeth. Lo. Li. Ta.” – Lolita (skipped a few words before)

You know more than you think you do.” – Dr. Spock’s book on baby care

Gregor Samsa awoke one morning after unsettling dreams to discover himself transformed into a monstrous vermin.” – Metamorphosis

The way that can be named is not the true way.” – Tao Te Ching

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” – A Tale of Two Cities

And so began my voyage of discovery in a place as strange as Brooklyn.” – Sophie’s Choice (Also a closing line that means a lot to me: “This was not judgment day. Only morning. Morning: Excellent and fair.“)

Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure” – The Stranger

It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – 1984

I am in invisible man. No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms. I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fiber and liquids—and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” – Invisible Man

‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.‘” – Satanic Verses

The night Max wore his wolf suit and mad mischief of one kind and another, his mother called him ‘Wild Thing!’” – Where the Wild Things Are

Sing, O goddess, the anger of Achilles son of Peleus, that brought countless ills upon the Achaeans. Many a brave soul did it send hurrying down to Hades, and many a hero did it yield a prey to dogs and vultures.” – Iliad

When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only” – Walden

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns driven time and again off course, once he had plundered the hallowed heights of Troy.” – Odyssey

Do you like green eggs and ham?” – Green Eggs and Ham

Leaving there and proceeding for three days toward the east, you reach Diomira, a city with sixty silver domes, bronze statues of all the gods, streets paved with lead, a crystal theater, a golden cock that crows each morning on a tower” – Invisible Cities

I ask the indulgence of the children who may read this book for dedicating it to a grown-up. I have a serious reason: he is the best friend I have in the world.” – The Little Prince

You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice–they won’t hear you otherwise–“I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything; just hope they’ll leave you alone.” – If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

I heartily accept the motto, ‘That government is best which governs least’; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe — ‘That government is best which governs not at all’; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.” – Civil Disobedience

This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” – The Death and Life of Great American Cities

War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.” – The Art of War

I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be able to be a source of great comfort and support.” – Diary of Anne Frank

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” – In Defense of Food (The author distinguishes food, which is something your grandparents would recognize as food, from food products, which are processed.)

I am a sick man… I am a spiteful man. An unattractive man. I think that my liver hurts.” Notes From Underground

“For over half a century the automobile has brought death, injury and the most inestimable sorrow and deprivation to millions of people.” Unsafe At Any Speed

“riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.” Finnegan’s Wake

We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like ‘I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive…’ And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: ‘Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?’” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

“It is worse, much worse, than you think.” The Uninhabitable Earth

My name is Edward Joseph Snowden. I used to work for the government, but now I work for the public.” Permanent Record

“Rafael came to me for help.” Initiative

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5 responses on “Great opening lines to books

  1. Excellent choices regarding memorable opening lines, particularly those memorable for their simplicity. May I suggest one further….

    “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

  2. These lines make me to read some books again. Today’s extremely hot and I need some cold and damp feelings so I will take my 1984 again. Are you a fan of Oscar Wilde by any chance?

    • I confess innocence to having read or seen his work, beyond loving his quotations and epigrams. Do you have a good opening line to share?

  3. Pingback: Gabriel Garcia Marquez » Joshua Spodek

  4. Pingback: More great opening lines to books | Joshua Spodek

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