The Pyrenees---Southern France

The Pyrenees---Southern France

Saturday, February 26, 2011

What's in a Name?

          I love when a post prods me to go to my book shelf--or even better--compels me to write.  The writing inspires me to trot off, on a mission, to find the something I'm looking for...

         Yesterday Donna Volkenannt's blog, among other things, got me thinking of first lines of books.  Donna is asking for you to share some of your favorite first lines. If you haven't done so already, do so. 

        I always look at the first line of a book before I buy it.  Sometimes it doesn't immediately hook me, but if I already love the author, I'm willing to go on the journey anyway.  Most of the time, however, if I make the purchase, it's because that initial line sends me off into a much-desired direction, or it intrigues me to the point that I must know where it leads... 

A Tale of Two Cities        When commenting on Donna's blog, I included that I loved Dickens' first, paragraph-long sentence from Tale of Two Cities.  Com'on.  You know you want to join in with me..."It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness..." (and that's only half of it).

       Also, I quoted Barbara Robinette Moss' first line from her brilliant and moving memoir Change Me into Zeus's Daughter. This was an author I was unfamiliar with.  I remember vividly picking this book off the shelf, looking at the first line, being held hostage--with that sentence jabbing me in the back---until I paid for the book and started reading it, completely immersed.

     "Mother spooned the poisoned corn and beans into her mouth, ravenously, eyes closed, hands shaking."

      I just had to know why the woman was eating something poisoned while she was obviously being watched by her child/children. I figured she was bent on killing herself, but no, that's not where the story leads...(Buy the book or borrow it from the library. It's a worthwhile read.)

  Change Me Into Zeus's Daughter     

       I also love Mary Karr's first line in her memoir Lit.  After the prologue. When the story really begins...

       "Age seventeen, string-haired and halter-topped, weighing in the high double digits and unhindered by a high school diploma, I showed up at the Pacific Ocean, ready to seek my fortune with a truck full of extremely stoned surfers."
Occasionally I turn to the last page and read the last line. Of course, I'm taking the risk of sabotaging myself.  But it's like the bread that makes a sandwich. If it's spongy white Wonderbread that holds the story together, I'm not interested. However, if it's hearty, coarse bread with a thick, crunchy crust, baked in a brick oven (in southern France!  Make it bread baked in France!), then I'm gonna take a bite and start chewing...

       ("Okay.  Enough with the on and on moaning about first lines and now---Geeze---salivating over bread.  Your post's title was "What's in a Name?"  Stop digressing.  Get back to the point you began with.)

       Donna's post got me thinking about the fact that sometimes, it's the title that gets me excited. Usually it happens with books that I use with my third graders.  And just like I bought Change Me into Zeus's Daughter just because I fell in love with the first line, I also bought this intermediate book simply because of the title: No More Dead Dogs.  (And no, it's not a depressing book about the death of a dog. In fact, it's funny.)

      So, share with Donna some of the best first lines from books you have collected on your bookshelf.  And share with me the book titles that have most intrigued you.  What titles have lit you on fire?

Lit: A Memoir (P.S.)


  1. Hi Sioux - I commented on Donna's blog about S.E. Hinton's "The Outsiders" first sentence (which is the same as the last sentence of the book.) As to titles...well, I've sometimes purchased a book because of the title and then not be enthralled, so a title isn't everything. That said, two books that did catch me with titles (and I loved the books!) are Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen and The Intelligencer by Leslie Silbert. Great titles, great books!

  2. Lisa--I love "Water for Elephants" but have not read "The Intelligencer." Thanks for the recommendation.

  3. I have to throw in my 2 cents here--if you liked Water for Elephants, try Sara Gruen's latest: Ape House. Loved it.

  4. I'm just like you, I always read the first line. If it goes on and on or doesn't grab me, that's it. (although, like you, I have a little more patience with tried and true favorite authors).

    PS-- I absolutely loved your comment at my blog about the rotating circle of Fireblossoms churning out poems and then falling to the floor. LOVED it!

  5. Okay, now I can't wait to find out why Mother was eating poisoned corn and beans! :-o I like long, memorable titles, like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, The World According to Garp, Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood....

  6. Among titles, The Unbearable Lightness of Being rates high on the intrigue scale (and it's one of my favorites). I'm glad you mentioned Mary Karr here. I love her memoirs. Of the three, I read "Cherry" first, and her voice really struck me. I thought: this is how Scout Finch would have written if she'd grown up to write memoirs...


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