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Ignorant or hateful? Books and covers. Sing me an opening! &c.


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But, as I said in my last treatment of this topic, the all-time champeen — as a reader pointed out — is “In the beginning . . .”

I will go in no particular order — and if you don’t see your nomination or nominations, please forgive me. It’s probably not that I’ve deliberately omitted them: just that I’ve been careless.

From my NR colleague Julie Crane:

Whittaker Chambers: Witness: “In 1937, I began, like Lazarus, the impossible return.”

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Hobbit: “In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit.”

Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind: “Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

And this is not a first line, but an epigraph: L. P. Hartley: The Go-Between: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”

One seams-loving reader said: “I think careful and objective consideration will cause you to agree that this is the greatest opening line of any printed work: ‘Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under direction of a manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires.’

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“It is, of course, Rule 1.01 of the Official Rules of Baseball.”

More nominations: Robert Louis Stevenson, The Master of Ballantrae: “The full truth of this odd matter is what the world has long been looking for and the public curiosity is sure to welcome.”

(I pause here to tell you that I’ve checked none of this: titles, authors, lines. So please be indulgent — and, again, this particular case is closed, enjoyable as it’s been.)

From T. E. Lawrence: “Some of the evil of my tale may have been inherent in our circumstances.”

Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

Mitchell Smith, Due North: “She stood on the fox until it died.”

A reader writes, “While ‘Call me Ishmael’ is no slouch, I couldn’t help but think yesterday morning, as I walked up a rainy Fifth Avenue, of another line in that opening paragraph: ‘whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul . . .’”

“Hi, Jay: One of my favorite first lines is from Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale (1953), the first of the James Bond novels (making these words, of course, the first words presented in the lore of James Bond): ‘The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.’ [Ooh, that is good, isn’t it.] I like this line because it is in stark contrast to the popular image of the Bond of blockbuster-movie fame — and it illustrates why books are almost always better than movies.”

From a Hemingway short story, “In Another Country”: “In the fall the war was always there, but we did not go to it anymore.”

Writes a reader, “Though it’s actually the first sentence of the second paragraph, ‘I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking’ (from Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood), is a near opening line that’s always stuck with me.”

From John Varley’s Steel Beach: “‘In ten years, the penis will be obsolete,’ said the salesman.”

From Charlotte’s Web: “‘Where’s Papa going with that ax?’ said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.”

Here are the opening two sentences from Ring Lardner’s Champion: “Midge Kelly scored his first knockout when he was seventeen. The knockee was his brother Connie, three years his junior and a cripple.”

Comments the reader — the nominator — “What more do you have to know about Midge Kelly?”

“I very much enjoyed your recent Impromptus relating favorite opening lines. As a longtime P. G. Wodehouse fan, I especially appreciated your personal choices. May I recommend another from the master? It’s from the hilarious The Luck of the Bodkins: ‘Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.’”

(FYI, many readers submitted this opening — especially British ones.)

From Ayn Rand: “Who is John Galt?”

From Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind: “There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

From Gravity’s Rainbow: “A screaming comes across the sky.”

“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”



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