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Monday, March 21, 2011

It Was The Best Of Times

Nope, not going to do a mini-lit class on 'A Tale of Two Cities' today, just want an opinion or three. Does a good first line draw you into a book or does it take more than that?

For me, I like a good first line, but I'll read a page or more before making a buying decision. Why? Because I've found amazing first lines with horrible rest-of-the-books and I've found horrible first lines with amazing rest-of-the-books. That's where this blog headline comes from. A bad first line (at least in my opinion.

"It was the best of times." This is how the book opens. It doesn't lead me to read more. Perhaps that is just my oversimplification of things, but that first line? As a reader, makes me think, "Great! It was a great time, I'll look for a book that wasn't about a great time." and, Ping!, I'm off to buy a different book.

But the book is a classic? Yeah, it is. And, yes, I actually do love the book. But I hate the beginning. The beginning didn't draw me in to the book, my lit teacher did by requiring the reading (Thank you, Mrs. Rhodes). The middle is what got me really involved in the story. The middle is what really made me appreciate the writing, the themes and the story. It's a darn good story. That first line, though, is still a clunker. At least to me.

"It was a dark and stormy night." Cliche'd bad first line. I'd roll my eyes if this was the actual first line in any modern book, but it actually works in the atmospheric, gothicy mystery "Paul Clifford" written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, in 1830. Heck, the phrase has even created an annual extremist fiction contest. And yet the actual book, despite that first line, is quite good. And in the right setting I could see another book using similar qualities in a bad-first-line-but- good-book experiment.

So I try not to judge a book by it's first line. I wait a bit - maybe a paragraph, maybe a page, maybe a chapter. If that first line is good, wonderful. If not, I do give it a little time. What about you? Does a great first line make you buy a book? Or does a bad first line make you toss it back in the stacks? What great first lines have you read lately?

Posted By: Kristina Knight @ 12:56:37 PM


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thanks for sharing this

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Posted By: Kristina

Thanks for stopping by, Shawn and D'Ann! Great to hear from you both - and I'm glad I'm not alone in my pages/chapter reading. :)

Posted on: 3/21/2011 4:46:20 PM


Posted By: shawn

I usually give a book a couple of pages before I make a decision. Greatest first line for me was "call me Ishmel" or something like that. It was from Mobey Dick. Haven't read that in years.

Posted on: 3/21/2011 4:25:42 PM


Posted By: D'Ann Linscott-Dunham

I don't care much one way or another about first lines (other than my own) and that is another thing. But I usually give a book at least a first chapter before I decide.

Posted on: 3/21/2011 3:30:21 PM