Saturday, August 20, 2005

First lines, best lines

Best sentences--like best songs and best liquors--should go first. Those that do, tell so much and are begged to tell more.

Here are two of my favorites:

"My mother died at the moment I was born, and so for my whole life there was nothing standing between myself and eternity; at my back was always a bleak, black wind." Autobiography of My Mother, Jamaica Kincaid

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of my tongue, taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta." Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov


That said, these are my current reads and their first foot(s):

"Can I explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block? Of course I can explain why I wanted to jump off the top of a tower block. I'm not a bloody idoit. I can explain it because it wasn't inexplicable: It was a logical decision, the product of proper thought." A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby

New York City, March 17, 1930
"This one, they say, will stand forever." Empire Rising, Thomas Kelly

"I wake to the drone of an airplane engine and the feeling of something warm dripping down my chin. I lift my hand to feel my face. My front teeth are gone. I have a hole in my cheek, my nose is broken and my eyes are swollen nearly shut. I open them and I look around and I'm in the back of a plane and there's no one near me. I look at my clothes and my clothes are covered with a colorful mixture of spit, snot, urine, vomit and blood. I reach for the call button and I find it and I push it and I wait and thirty seconds later an Attendant arrives.
How can I help you?" A Million Little Pieces, James Frey


At 1:50 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Okay, this is an obvious choice, but it was that book that "changed my life": "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?'"

It's late and my eyes are clouding over, so I can't provide the first lines of what I'm currently reading.

At 8:36 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Anyone care to lay odds on how long we have to wait before Triple J gets an e-mail from one of those "Nigerian government" scams?

At 9:58 AM, Blogger TripleJ said...

And then I will hit 'delete' just like the others.

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous JJones said...

I read this book every year just before summer starts. Summer can't start until I do. I love how the meaning of this passage has changed for me over the years.

It was a quiet morning, the town covered over with darkness and at ease in bed. Summer gathered in the weather, the wind had the proper touch, the breathing of the world was long and warm and slow. You had only to rise, lean from your window, and know that this indeed was the first real time of freedom and living, this was the first morning of summer. Dandelion Wine, Bradbury

At 1:19 PM, Anonymous JJones said...

I can't believe these a**holes spam blogs.

At 11:43 PM, Blogger sasefina said...

Been meaning to read a million little pieces...just read Dry by Augusten Burroughs last week. Highly recommended!

At 11:43 PM, Blogger sasefina said...

Been meaning to read a million little pieces...just read Dry by Augusten Burroughs last week. Highly recommended!

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Scrubby Nub and The Bothered Brigade said...

Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person's lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubt's upon one's soul.
-John Kennedy Toole

Not an opening passage, just a sentence, really, but it's damn fine in my book (or his).

At 10:18 AM, Blogger tj1972 said...

Sasefina - Agree with you on Dry. Thought it was great. Running With Scissors was also good if you didn't read that one first.

At 12:35 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Ah, old Ignatius J. is a man after my own heart!

At 12:35 PM, Blogger CHW said...

Man, there are so many keepers...

"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 before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them." - Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)

"I [John Wheelwright] 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." A Prayer for Owen Meany (Irving)

"An abandoned auto court in the San Berdoo foothills; Buzz Meeks checked in with ninety-four thousand dollars, eighteen pounds of high-grade heroin, a 10-gauge pump, a .38 special, a .45 automatic and a switchblade he’d bought of a pachuco at the border – right before he spotted the car parked across the line: Mickey Cohn goons in an LAPD unmarked, Tijuana cops standing by to bootjack a piece of his goodies, dump his body in the San Ysidro River." -- L.A. Confidential(Ellroy)

At 12:50 PM, Blogger Scrubby Nub and The Bothered Brigade said...

Nice work, CHW. That Catcher in the Rye passage is up there with some of the best.

At 4:03 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

Mad props to any Ellroy fans out there.

What follows aren't exactly the first lines of "Tropic of Cancer," but they're among the first few paragraphs:

"I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive. A year ago, six months ago, I thought that I was an artist. I no longer think about it, I am. Everything that was literature has fallen from me. There are no more books to be written, thank God.

"This then? This is not a book. this is libel, slander, defamation of character. this is not a book, in the ordinary sense of the word. No, this is a prolonged insult, a gob of spit in the face of Art, a kick in the pants to God, Man, Destiny, Time, Love, Beauty...what you will. I am going to sing for you, a little off key perhaps, but I will sing. I will sing while you croak, I will dance over your dirty corpse....

"To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. the essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a sing. I am singing."

At 4:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buenda was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."
-- Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Love that line because of its three tenses (present, future, past) and its drama and its resolution to something as basic as ice. It's very elegant.

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Satisfied '75 said...

"I CAN FEEL THE HEAT closing in, feel them out there making their moves, setting up their devil doll stool pigeons, crooning over my spoon and dropper I throw away at Washington Square Station, vault a turnstile and two flights down the iron stairs...."

At 5:08 PM, Blogger jsbankston said...

I can never think of that book without remembering that "Mystery Science Theater" episode where during the film a bus was shown chugging along a mountain road somewhere in Latin America, and the bots started singing, "100 years of solitude! 100 years of solitude! Take one down, pass it around! 99 years of solitude!"

At 9:57 PM, Blogger tj1972 said...

It was a bright, defrosted, pussy-willow day at the onset of spring, and the newlyweds were driving cross-country in a large roast turkey. - Skinny Legs and All, Tom Robbins

"Who is John Galt?" - Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand

When I was seven, I was plucked from my uneventful life deep in darkest Massachusetts and dropped into a Tang Instant Breakfast Commercial. It was exactly like being abducted by aliens except without the anal probe. I was a lonely kid with entirely imaginary friends. I played with trees. - Magical Thinking, Augusten Burroughs

The Seller of lightning rods arrived just ahead of the storm. He came along the street of Green Town, Illinois, in the late cloudy October day, sneaking glances over his shoulder. Somewhere, a storm like a great beast with terrible teeth could not be denied.- Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

At 8:27 AM, Blogger tastho said...

My wound is geography.
Pat Conroy, Prince of Tides
(Regardless of what you thought of the movie or think of Pat, if you haven't read at least the prologue to this book, do yourself a favor...especially if you like books that evoke a real sense of place.)

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

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

We have been lost to each other for so long. My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust.
Anita Diamont, The Red Tent

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.
Maya Angelo, Singin', Swingin' & Getting Merry Like Christmas

At 9:14 AM, Blogger TripleJ said...

The comments on this post have been some of my favorites. I've got a lot of reading and re-reading to do.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger jsbankston said...

It makes me wanna read some authors who are actually still alive. Most of my faves are worm-fodder.

I guess the problem is I know which dead writers are good bets to read, but am less sure about the living ones. And I read in a frightfully slow manner as it is, and will never in this life get through the thousands of books I already have.

Plus I admit to harboring great feelings of jealousy and competitiveness towards living writers.

At 9:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Here's how I work: I write the bastard."
-- William Goldman -- first line from one of his screenplay compilations...

And if you haven't read The Princess Bride -- and for some reason think it's sufficient to have seen the (lame, in my opinion) movie -- then you should go and read that book right now. Start to finish.

At 10:28 AM, Anonymous JJones said...

Glad to see someone else likes Bradbury!

I concur with TripleJ, I have a lot of reading to do after reviewing these posts. Seems you struck a chord here. I would like to see what else people are reading. I'm always looking for new and different books to read.

At 12:45 PM, Blogger tastho said...

I second that jjones. I'd be interested to hear about things you guys have read and enjoyed too.

At 8:38 PM, Blogger princessmalin said...

I was taking a walk
when I heard a loud clatter!
I rushed into the kitchen
to see what was the matter.

There on the floor
with the tea pouring out
was a cracked teapot
with a broken spout.

"Good heavens! What happened
my poor Miss Teapot?"
She rolled over and murmured,
"The tea was too hot."

--"I Can't Said The Ant" by Polly Cameron

At 10:49 AM, Blogger lilihammer said...

"The human head is of the approximate size and weight as a roaster chicken. I have never before had occasion to make the comparison, for never before today have I seen a head in a roasting pan." -- "Stiff" Mary Roach

At 7:47 AM, Anonymous Ryan Munk said...

Excellent, that was really well explained and helpful


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