You Had Me at Hello

Was it love at first sight for our favorite books?


I recently asked my fellow Wenches to share great opening sentences from some of their favourite books. I was interested in knowing whether the opening lines grabbed their attention from the start, so they knew they were reading a book that would come to mean so much to them. Sometimes that happens, but other times it takes a while for a book to engage us so completely.

We might not fully appreciate the significance of those opening lines until we’ve read further. We might be so busy anticipating what lies ahead, and how that cliffhanger from the last book in the series is going to be resolved, that we hardly notice the introduction. Then we turn the last page and have to start right back over again, so we can read more slowly, to fully absorb those opening lines, along with all the others we might have missed in our haste.



In some books, a powerful first statement gives us pause, or even stops us cold, and we can’t even think about reading further until we’ve sufficiently reacted: basked in admiration or amazement, enjoyed a good belly laugh, recoiled our little turtle heads into our shells in horror and then peeked back out again, or wiped poignant tears from our eyes.... In others, authors make their impression slowly, stealthily, a little bit here and a little bit there, and you don’t notice you’re hooked until it’s too late. And then you Can’t. Put. It. Down.

What did some of the Wenches have to say about first lines? Find out after the jump! And please let us know whether your favourite books knocked your socks off right out of the gate or seduced you slowly...




DONNA: My favorite book is Outlander by Diana Gabaldon.The opening sentence serves a big helping of foreshadowing and mystery, and it immediately grabbed my attention.

Claire Randall is a young army nurse, enjoying a second honeymoon with her scholarly husband, Frank, at a bed-and-breakfast in a small Scottish town. Set in 1945 just after the end of WWII, Claire and Frank are trying to reconnect after having had little contact with each other over the past seven years. Ironically, they choose the Highlands, “on the grounds that Scotland had been somewhat less touched by the physical horrors of war than the rest of Britain.” I suppose that would have been true for twentieth-century Scotland, but the Highlands is known for its violent and bloody past, which she will soon find out firsthand.

Claire (who is my favourite book character EVER!) is a smart, quick-witted, resourceful, passionate woman who is indulgent, but not terribly interested in her husband’s preoccupation with his family tree. She barely pays attention to some very important information Frank imparts about an ancestor, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, little realizing that she will be meeting him in a few short days.



VERONICA: I can’t pick a favorite book, so I’m going to pick a book that I’m very fond of. It’s The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. The first line of the prologue definitely drew me in. Good thing, because the first line of the first chapter isn’t all that exciting. But it didn’t take me long to become obsessed with this book and I read it at my every free moment. And, after you’ve read the book, you will understand the significance of the first line of the first chapter, and it just might give you goosebumps.

It’s a historical novel, an epic novel, a medieval novel. It’s an architectural novel with more details than I ever thought would be interesting about stonemasonry. It’s a story about religion (or, more accurately, politics). It’s also a love story, and a story about family.

It’s also the book that inspired me to get a Kindle. When I re-read it several years later, after a few late nights reading this monster of a book in bed, the heavy binding cutting red marks into the space between my thumb and forefinger, I had no problem saying goodbye to “dead tree books” forever.






MERIT: Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill grabbed me from the first sentence. I became curious at once, wanting to know why and how, what happened to the narrator. I wanted to know her story, and at the same time I smiled at the humor. So between curiosity and humor, I was hooked, and still am.










ZEE: The first line from the first chapter (not prologue) that appears in almost all the Wheel of Time books hooked me from the very first book, The Eye of the World. The first paragraph kinda weaves this spell around you, that you’re in a different world now, not in Kansas anymore. You’re about to witness Legends be born/reborn and then, maybe, fade into myth. But you’ll remember long after the Wheel turns and another age starts. Definitely a line that resonated with me long after I put each book down. I had to give it to Robert Jordan, he knew how to weave a spell so magical and lasting, I don’t think I’ll ever get over this series. Or ever forget that first line, which had me gripping the books hard and devouring each and every page.



ANNE: I wasn’t completely hooked by the first line of The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton, but by the end of the first chapter, I was totally engrossed and sped through the rest of the book. I’ve since read this book probably close to 50 or 60 times.




KATHI: Here are the opening lines that lured me to a new genre, back when I was a small-town, Southern gal moving to the big city. Newly single, recent college graduate in English Literature (ensuring a looooong job search), meeting cool new friends... who introduced me to cool new books. These first sentences of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy quickly seduced me away from my more traditional science fiction/fantasy fare to explore hipster satire. Not the Kerouac/Ginsberg kind of “hip” I’d labored through in college, but a lighter brand, which so entertained me with its verbal extravagances and outrageous wit that the liberally sprinkled, irreverent bits of wisdom and insight were a joy to explore. It was a little like Oscar Wilde in space and a lot like Monty Python’s Flying Circus in print (for those of you who remember Monty Python’s heyday)!!! Douglas Adams had the most amazing ability to craft words into sentences that went where you least expected them to and dragged your mind right along with them. So thanks to him, my literary hipster years began as a stowaway aboard a Vogon ship, traveling to other galaxies in search of new entries for the hitchhiker’s guide and the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Which is 42, by the way.


ANGELA: Of course, this opening line to Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman gripped my attention immediately. I wanted to know straight away what had this boy been exiled from, and he clearly to me wasn’t happy about it. He sounded to me like a rebel in the making. I’ve loved this book for many years, and it is a firm favourite still.




Favourite books, the ones that hold a special place in your heart, are the ones you turn to time and time again. They may be falling apart because you’ve read them so many times. You may be reminded of a certain scene or character when you’re going about your day, or late at night when your brain won’t shut off. You might even have a huge crush on the author because he/she has created such an amazing piece of literature that has had such an impact on you.


We’d love it if you shared the opening lines from your favourite books with us. Sound off below!


Comments

  1. Interesting... I don't think I've ever been that gripped by the first sentences in a book. However, the opposite is often the case - I'll read the first sentences in a book and KNOW I'll hate it. I'm usually right. Happens more often in non-fiction than fiction, but it does happen.

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  2. Cara's comment makes me think of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where awards are given to entrants who write the worst opening sentences. Their annual list of winners is usually good for quite a few laughs.

    I know what you mean though, Cara. Some books just try to pack too much into that first sentence, or be too dramatic or cool or... something, and I hear myself groan and know I'm probably not going to get very far in this book.

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