First lines of popular books


Originally published at:


“It was love at first sight” Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

I just adore that quote!


Greatest first line I have ever read:

“Not everybody knows how I killed old Phillip Mathers, smashing his jaw with my spade; but first it is better to speak of my friendship with John Divney because it was he who first knocked old Mathers down by giving him a great blow in the neck with a special bicycle-pump which he manufactured himself out of a hollow iron bar.”

Flann O’Brien, The Third Policeman

It’s a hell of a book.


“It was the best of times, it was the blurst of times…”


No The Art of the Deal? Come on! It’ll be required reading, soon.*


  • Trump 2016!


I’ve always been partial to the oft quoted opening to Gibson’s Neuromancer

“The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”

Which - when it was written - gave a wonderful picture of the grey, sooty skies overhead where we begin the novel.

Today, the reader may be forgiven for thinking it was cloudless day with a bright blue sky.


“Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__ and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn and the brown old seaman with the sabre-cut first took up his lodging under our roof.”

R.L. Stevenson, Treasure Island

Certainly draws you right in.


When Gregor Samsa woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, he found himself changed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.


Well, it says first lines, plural, not first sentences, and a couple of the quotes in the image contain more than one sentence. That’s all the excuse I need to post a whole first page. Truncate it anywhere you like; it still works.

"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood, and she lived all alone. She was very old, though she did not know it, and she was no longer the careless color of sea foam, but rather the color of snow falling on a moonlit night. But her eyes were still clear and unwearied, and she still moved like a shadow on the sea.

She did not look anything like a horned horse, as unicorns are often pictured, being smaller and cloven-hoofed, and possessing that oldest, wildest grace that horses have never had, that deer have only in a shy, thin imitation and goats in dancing mockery. Her neck was long and slender, making her head seem smaller than it was, and the mane that fell almost to the middle of her back was as soft as dandelion fluff and as fine as cirrus. She had pointed ears and thin legs, with feathers of white hair at the ankles; and the long horn above her eyes shone and shivered with its own seashell light even in the deepest midnight. She had killed dragons with it, and healed a king whose poisoned wound would not close, and knocked down ripe chestnuts for bear cubs."

Peter S. Beagle, The Last Unicorn


I prefer this translation, since my memory is of Gregor transformed to a giant cockroach:

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

Plenty of other choices, though:


Some version of this would look cool on my wall, even if I’d rather the few recently published books were dropped from it


I suppose it’s close enough to qualify as the first lines:

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

preface to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


It’s one of the best, aye. Also, the first line of Banks’s ‘The Crow Road’


The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.


I have longed for a nice poster of the first page of HHGG, and I hope one will materialize somewhere someday. I have it largely committed to memory.

And then, one Thursday, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl sitting on her own in a small café in Rickmansworth suddenly realized what it was that had been going wrong all this time, and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no one would have to get nailed to anything.


But as far as memorable first lines go, I like

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time

And though it will sadly probably be largely forgotten much too soon, I do enjoy David Brin’s The Practice Effect, which has what is really the only suitable first line for any SF novel.

The lecture was really boring.


This is definitely a topic that deserves thousands of responses, so limiting yourself to just one is difficult. I might as well go with the book I’m reading now!

The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
Seveneves, Neal Stephenson


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


Call me Ishmael.


Came here for The Crow Road. For those not in the know:

It was the day my grandmother exploded.


Self-consciously for effect, which he duly justifies over the next 600-odd pages:

It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the Archbishop had come to see me.

“Earthly Powers”, Anthony Burgess.