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Andrea Harris runs down that list of 100 best opening lines from novels, and decides that maybe they aren’t the best. (Okay, some of them are downright terrible and/or embarrassing.)

I was, however, gratified to see my Favorite Novel Ever in the #82 slot. (Yes, it’s worth reading.) And I thought I’d throw in a few others that I’ve found compelling — which doesn’t necessarily imply “beautiful” — over the past few years:

  • “There are houses in London that keep to themselves and say nothing when strangers walk by.” — F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre, The Woman Between the Worlds (1994)
  • “I knew we were unfit for one another the night we were watching Casablanca.” — James Lileks, Mr. Obvious (1995)
  • “Bad monkey wammerjammer.” — Penn Jillette, Sock (2004)
  • “I searched for sleep curled up in my quilt — the one made for me at my birth by my paternal grandmother’s own hands.” — Dorothea Benton Frank, Sullivan’s Island (1999)
  • “It started with a book.” — Frank Portman, King Dork (2006)
  • “If his life—along with those of so many agents faithful to the Cause—didn’t hang in the balance, James Locke knew he would turn and escape Lord Pembroke’s study as silently as he had entered.” — Donna MacMeans, The Trouble with Moonlight (2008)

About the only thing these books have in common is that I paid to own copies thereof, and I saw reason to go to the second line and beyond. As the phrase goes, your mileage may vary.



  1. stixx23 »

    11 May 2012 · 10:59 am

    I can’t take any list of opening lines seriously – especially a list of 100 fer crying out loud – that does not include:

    “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” – Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

  2. Lynn »

    11 May 2012 · 12:00 pm

    #30 has bothered me since I first read it. I assumed he means television that is only connected to an old-fashioned antenna but if you have cable or satellite, a television tuned to a dead channel is a bright blue. (but darker than sky blue) Or perhaps some other cable companies use a different color. So then I got to thinking, a lot of younger people might not even know what color a television (with antenna) tuned to a dead channel looks like so maybe that’s not what he meant? Was the sky a bright, non-sky-blue blue? Or some other color? Yes, I know, I’m over-thinking it. I can’t keep my mind from going places like this.

  3. CGHill »

    11 May 2012 · 12:24 pm

    On t’other hand, it’s unreasonable to expect William Gibson to update the novel for new kinds of television-delivery systems.

    I figure, if I could get through Tristram Shandy, which dates to about two hundred years before I do, I could deal with Neuromancer.

  4. Francis W. Porretto »

    11 May 2012 · 4:06 pm

    My favorites that don’t appear in that list:

    He found the flying mountain by its shadow.

    I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination.

    Once upon a time there was a Martian named Valentine Michael Smith.

    It is an age lurching along the lip of a dark precipice, peeking fearfully into chaos’s empty eyes, enrapt, like a giddy rat trying to stare down a hungry cobra.

    Early this morning, 1 January 2021, three minutes after midnight, the last human being to be born on Earth was killed in a pub brawl in a suburb of Buenos Aires, aged twenty-five years, two months and twelve days.

    A Dream Of Freedom was a ship that had once been a world.

  5. Andrea Harris »

    11 May 2012 · 10:03 pm

    Lynn: yeah, that line definitely dates Gibson, and cyberpunk. On the other hand, I can still get that staticky grey snow on my tv on a “dead” channel because I don’t have cable. If I move it off the channel that I use for my dvd player, I get the gray static.

  6. Tatyana »

    12 May 2012 · 12:25 am

    who are all those people? why are they put next to Wolf, Tolstoy, Kafka, Maugham and Nabokov – as if they are equals, sharing brilliant glory of Parnassus?

    Chaz, how many authors (let along novels) on that list have you read ?

  7. CGHill »

    12 May 2012 · 7:51 pm

    Since you asked, on that particular list I have read:

    1-13, 16-17, 19-21, 23, 25-27, 30, 37-38, 48-51, 53, 56, 59, 64-67, 71, 76-77, 82-83, 90 and 100.

    (I’ve seen a film of 99, but have not read the book; I have a copy of 58, but have not really gotten into it yet.)

  8. Tatyana »

    13 May 2012 · 7:34 am

    it looks like a start of a meme…I’ll play

  9. Lynn »

    14 May 2012 · 8:08 am

    Oops. I didn’t even pay attention to the year for Neuromancer. I always thought it came out at least 10 years later than that.

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