Category archives: First Line

First Line: Dangerous

by May 7, 2014 in Books, First Line, Recommended, Science Fiction

First Line: Dangerous

"The warehouse was coffin dark."

Initially this may strike you as a really solid opener - it gives a sense of foreboding and danger with just a few words. However, as it turns out, I found this first line to be pretty disappointing because of what immediately follows in the one page prologue this sentence initiates. The prologue continues with the sense of fear, finally culminating in "But I didn't want to kill again. And I didn't want to die."

Honestly, this probably wouldn't strike me as such an overplayed, melodramatic start of the book if not for the painful similarities to the opening of each book in the Twilight series, and for the fact that the first sentence in the first chapter was so much better.

"Every superhero has an origin story."

I enjoy this opener so much more for several reasons. First of all, it doesn't bring to mind unfortunate comparisons to Twilight. This book is not a melodramatic romance wrapped inside a silly vampire story. Instead, it's an exciting sci-fi action adventure with original and well-wrought characters. Don't get me wrong, sometimes you want a melodramatic and silly book to read, but to call Dangerous any of those things does the book an injustice.

Second, I like the latter quote better as an opening line because it's more original, at least for me. It doesn't bring to mind any other books I've read, and immediately sets it apart as something I'm interested. Plus, there is more mystery to the idea of reading the origins of a superhero (especially for a 1-armed teenage girl) than there is to foreshadowing a life and death showdown in the first page.

Finally, "Every superhero has an origin story." is a better opening line because it more realistically represents the themes, tone, and style of the whole book, rather than implying it's overblown and unoriginal. This is a superhero story. It is full of adventure, whimsy, and heartache. It has real characters acting in believable ways in an unbelievable situation. To have any opening that does anything other than give that impression is unfair to the excellent book that follows.

I guess what it all comes down to for me is that the "second" opener feels like a more natural fit with the book, and less an attempt to "grab attention". With all that said you should read this book, and if the prologue doesn't hook you, don't worry, Chapter 1 is just a page away.

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First Line: The Supernaturalist

by April 10, 2014 in Books, First Line, Science Fiction

First Line: The Supernaturalist

SATELLITE CITY: THE CITY Of the FUTURE, proclaimed the billboards.

A straightforward first line, but also one that contains some insights into what we can expect from The Supernaturalist. First of all, we immediately learn where the story will take place - Satellite City. From this it's safe to assume that this will be a science fiction novel that takes place in space, or something like space. Both perhaps obvious from the back cover, but if you are like me and don't read such things, it's good to know what you are getting into from the beginning. This is especially true with a title that may imply a plot that is more about ghosts than aliens.

More than that, though, we can just pick up on the disillusionment that the narrator must have with the claim of the billboard about Satellite City being the "City of the Future". I don't think we would read "proclaimed" if Satellite City actually were the City of the Future, instead it would simply be presented as a fact. "Satellite City: The City of the Future". Obviously Satellite City is not the perfect paradise this advertisement implies.

Finally, I can't help ...

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First Line: Sanshirō

by March 28, 2012 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line: Sanshirō

There are going to be a few thematic spoilers to this book, but I'll be careful not to spoil too much for those who want to read Sanshirō.

"He drifted off, and when he opened his eyes the woman was still there."

Despite its simple appearance, this is a really great first line. Even without being informed by the rest of the novel, we can learn a lot about Sanshirō as a character from this opener. If we build the imagery of what is happening here in our minds, we see that Sanshirō took enough interest in the woman nearby to notice her, but allowed himself to drift off to sleep. When he does awake from his brief rest, he immediately notices the woman again.

What does this mean? Clearly women are something of interest to Sanshirō, evident by the fact that nothing else about his surroundings is mentioned as he falls asleep, or as he wakes up. And yet, there is something about the choice of the word “still” that implies Sanshirō is not entirely comfortable with the woman nearby. As though by closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep Sanshirō hoped the woman would be gone ...

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First Line: Tale of Genji

by July 9, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

Let's jump right into it:

"In a certain reign (whose can it have been?) someone of no very great rank, among all His Majesty's Consorts and Intimates, enjoyed exceptional favor" (1).

This immediately reminded me of the opening line for Don Quixote, another lengthy, historic tale.  Just as Cervantes's claim that he can't remember quite where in La Mancha Don Quixote was from is brimming with irony, Genji's introduction strikes me as slightly ironic as well.  It may not be immediately evident (unless you consider just how long the book is), but Genji is rife with details about ancient Japanese court lifestyle.  Considering that, there must be some intentional humor in the narrator's claim that she can't quite remember whose reign it was.

Yet, at the same time, we must also consider the fact that this is a female author telling us about the behavior of an Emperor in somewhat unflattering terms.  Periodically throughout the book the narrator will address the reader directly, making claims about how it would not be appropriate of someone of her rank to reveal too much about what happened between these more noble characters.  This could simply be ...

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First Line: Don Quixote

by May 5, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line: Don Quixote

You might not be aware of this, but Don Quixote is a massive book.  As a result I will probably be doing multiple posts about it so that this blog doesn't screech to a halt while I work my way through it.  Note:  I'm reading the Edith Grossman translation. Also, I am already about 240 pages into the book, so this discussion is being informed by more than a blind reading of the first line.

"Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing" (1).

First of all, I love the irony of Cervantes writing a 900+ page book about Don Quixote, but being unwilling to remember where in La Mancha he comes from.  Not just because it's inherently humorous, but also because it shows, immediately, the tone we can expect from the entire book.  Though this may be a classic work of fiction, it is not a dry, dusty tome that we must put upon a shelf and venerate from a ...

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First Line: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

by March 9, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction

First Line: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I want to do something a little different with this First Line.  In the last 3, I chose books that I read previously and so in each case I was familiar with where the books were going.  If, however, I'm to take my claim that the first line of a book is important seriously, then I should give serious thought to the first line of a book the first time I read it.  So that's what I'm doing with Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.  I don't know anything about this book.  I haven't read the back of it, no one has described the plot to me, nothing.  All I know is that it starts with the following:

"What about a teakettle?"

Huh?  Or, in the words of the opening chapter "What the?"  This isn't a lot to go from, but it's not impossible to make a few wild guesses.  To start, it gives me the impression that this is going to be an odd book.  After all, it did just start itself asking if a teakettle is more appropriate.  Than what?  Who knows.  For what?  No clue.  I am looking forward to finding ...

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First Line: Twilight

by Feb. 20, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Not Recommended

First Line: Twilight

Just a word of warning - this first line discussion may have a few more spoilers than some of the previous ones.  So if for some reason you have been dying to read Twilight but haven't gotten around to it yet, this post may not be for you.  With that out of the way - on to the first line:

"I'd never given much thought to how I would die - though I'd had reason enough in the last few months - but even if I had, I would not have imagined it like this."

When you read this for the first time, without knowing where the story is actually going, there's no denying that this is an attention grabbing opener.  In the first sentence we know that the narrator's life is in danger, death being the only likely outcome, and while the death she is actually facing is unexpected, death itself is not.  What more can you want from a first line?

Oh, I don't know, maybe a first line that is logically consistent with the rest of the book?  Yeah, that would be nice, but unfortunately we don't get that here.  Let's break it ...

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First Line: A Prayer for Owen Meany

by Feb. 11, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line: A Prayer for Owen Meany

For this week's First Line let's see what John Irving has to offer in A Prayer for Owen Meany:

"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

It's interesting coming to this first line after Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell last week.  In that case we had a short, subtle, straightforward sentence that was particularly good at setting the stage for tone and tempo.  It gave us some idea of setting and story, but for me, that wasn't it's primary purpose.

Here, however, we are thrown immediately into the story.  First of all, we know that our narrator (John, conveniently enough) will remember Owen, but not in a simple, reminiscing sort of way.  Instead, he is doomed to remember Owen.  The language here conveys a sense of inevitability or fate about the role Owen will play in John's life.

This idea is confirmed as John relays ...

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First Line: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

by Feb. 4, 2010 in Books, First Line, Fiction, Recommended

First Line:  Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

I think that far too often the first line of a book gets wasted on the reader (myself included). How often do we, when first cracking open a brand new book, stop to appreciate everything the author is trying to tell us right at the very beginning? Sure there are times when we are immediately captivated by some good writing, or by a novel that jumps right into the action, but do we really give enough time to what is literally setting the stage for everything to come?

With that in mind, I'd like to start a reoccurring feature on the blog: First Line. In these posts I will provide the first line of a book I have read (and hopefully many of you have as well) and discuss what it does right and wrong in context of the book as whole.  Don't worry, I won't be spoiling anything specific.  Instead, I'll be focusing on the tone, themes, etc. of the novel.  It's not exactly a review, either, because as we all know a book can start great and end terribly or start terribly and end great.  This is still in its infancy, so I ...

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