NOTE: We’re doing first and second sentences if we can manage it. We want you to see the flow from the first to the second (and sometimes the third and fourth).
1. Light in August by William Faulkner
Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come to Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.’ Thinking although I have not been quite a month on the road I am already in Mississippi, further from home than I have ever been before. I am now further from Doane’s Mill than I have been since I was twelve years old
This beginning is so good I that I can’t even type just the first and second sentences. It may seem commonplace, boring even, but that’s the brilliance of Faulkner. His sentences blend into each other so fully that it is difficult even to find a place to stop. That metaphor of the sentences as cars on a train is never more apt than in a novel by Faulkner.
2. America (The Book) by John Stewart, Ben Karlin, David Javerbaum, Rich Blomquist, Steve Bodow, Tim Carvell, Eric Drysdale, J.R. Havlan, Scott Jacobson, Tom Johnson, Rom Kutner, Chris Regan, Jason Reich, and Jason Ross
It is often said that America “invented” democracy. This view is, of course, an understatement; America invented not only democracy, but freedom, justice, liberty, and “time-sharing”.
The first sentence is so ridiculous that you read on. The second sentence is even more ridiculous, so you continue hoping that things will eventually be explained. If you have read America (The Book), you know how disappointed that little ray of hope will be. This book is farcical nonfiction, and the first couple of sentences reflect that, setting the tone for the entire mock-textbook.
3. When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
My friend Patsy was telling me a story. “So I’m at the movie theatre,” she said, “and I’ve got my coat all neatly laid out against the back of my seat, when this guy comes along—” And here I stopped her, because I’ve always wondered about this coat business.”
With the very first line, we feel like the narrator is speaking to us, catching us up on the story now in progress. And he doesn’t relent, either. Sedaris dives right into stream of consciousness dialogue then, very abruptly (as one would in a real-time conversation) he cuts the woman, Patsy, off to wonder about this coat business. Now we’re wondering about this coat business. What coat business? And so it goes.
4. A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once.
Oh boy. So what we’ve got here is a pretty short first sentence with not much information. The fact that we’ve literally only been told about a green hunting cap that is too small for someone’s big head is kind of irritating, which is sort of the perfect tone to set for this book: prepare to be annoyed. The first sentence thuds into the second like an hammer into a watermelon; it’s got the repetition of “green”, the continued (pointed and detailed) description of the head we learned about at the end of the first sentence, and an absolutely ridiculous simile. If you don’t want to scratch your eyes out with a fork by the second sentence, you’re probably the kind of person who would love this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel.
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When I wake up, the other side of the bed is cold. My fingers stretch out, seeking Prim’s warmth but finding only the rough canvas cover of the mattress. She must have had bad dreams and climbed in with our mother. Of course, she did. This is the day of the reaping.
Collins has begun quite intimately. We are in the narrator’s bed, which is made even more personal by the fact that the story is told in first person present. The first character name we read is Prim, who is not the main character, but is obviously important to him or her. We learn about another character, their mother, while also making inferences about the socioeconomic state of the characters so far — rough canvas covering the mattress and the fact that these two people are sleeping in the same bed may imply that the characters are poor. We also wonder with the narrator about Prim’s bad dreams, and are left with a big question: What is the reaping?
SUBMIT A FIRST LINE AND YOUR COMMENTARY ON IT HERE! We would like to include your favorite first lines in these segments as well. We also accept first lines from your work, so don’t be shy!