9.04.2017

My Favorite Opening Lines in Literature | Part I


01 | Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
"I have just returned from a visit to my landlord – the solitary neighbor that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society. A perfect misanthropist's Heaven – and Mr. Heathcliff and I are such a suitable pair to divide the desolation between us. A capital fellow! He little imagined how my heart warmed towards him when I beheld his black eyes withdraw so suspiciously under their brows, as I rode up, and when his fingers sheltered themselves, with a jealous resolution, still further in his waistcoat, as I announced my name."

02 | Charles Dicken's The Old Curiosity Shop
"Night is generally my time for walking. In the summer I often leave home early in the morning, and roam about the fields and lanes all day, or even escape for days or weeks together, but saving in the country I seldom go out until after dark, though, Heaven be thanked, I love its light and feel the cheerfulness it sheds upon the earth, as much as any creature living."

03 | Washington Irving's The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
"Found among the papers of the late Diedrich Knickerbocker: A pleasing land of drowsy head it was, Of dreams that wave before the half-shut eye; And of gay castles in the clouds that pass, For ever flushing round a summer sky." (Washington Irving quotes James Thomson's poem, Castle of Indolence, to set the tone for the story.)

04 | Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
"Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder. I am exactly halfway up. The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I've left behind. The tops of the shelves loom high above, and it's dark up there – the books are packed in close, and they don't let any light through. The air might be thinner, too. I think I see a bat."

05 | Bruce Holsinger's A Burnable Book
"Under a clouded moon Agnes huddles in a silver of utter darkness and watches him, this dark-cloaked man, as he questions the girl by the dying fire. At first he is kind seeming, almost gentle with her. They speak something like French: not the flavor of Stratford-at-Bowe nor of Paris, but a deep and throated tongue, tinged with the south. Olives and figs in his voice, the embrace of a warmer sea."

06 | Menna van Praag's The House at the End of Hope Street
"The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It's larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys high into the sky. The front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the low-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by the moonlight, the house appears enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds."


What makes an opening line or paragraph a favorite of mine? It's any combination of words that can illustrate a setting in such a way that makes me feel not just that I am there, but also that I want to be there, and revisit again and again. It comes down to preference. Night and darkness, woods, bookshops, the mysterious, and curiosity are just a few things I am drawn to. It's no coincidence that elements of who I am are found in these paragraphs. Connecting with the first words of a book is always a good sign.

CHARLENE ZALE

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