When I slip into a neurotic moment (pretty common for me) while wandering about bookstores, I read the first line of a book and then skip to the final page and read the last line. I love the first and last lines of great books because they frame the body of work like neon parentheses. Here are some of my favorites first lines. I’ll let you guess the book. 1) In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since. 2) To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. 3) All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. 4) It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
And here are two wonderful lines bracketing the Gospel of John: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the last line. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.
Maybe the whole world would have room for all those things if the Kindle or Nook existed 2,000 years ago. But with the advent of the codex a few hundred years after John’s gospel, books actually became bound books, not scrolls, and libaries became more pragmatic and great lines and thoughts slightly more accessible. Then came the wonder of scale and production via Gutenberg’s printing press in 1452. Now, we are empowered with access to great literature at the touch of a few keys. Regardless of the media, great lines still move me to consider the greater and lesser angels lurking in my soul. So I’ll keep reading great books looking for my favorite punchy, provocative lines.
What are your favorite first & last lines?
5 responses to “My favorites lines”
Thanks, Brent, for letting me know about this!! What a neat way to share thoughts and insights. The only one of the quotes I think I know is #2 about the rain coming on the scarred earth – was that from the book about the Dust Bowl? I have to confess that I have never looked at books that way before – I usually look at the description on the back to see if it is interesting. But this puts a new perspective on perusing books. Here is a beginning “I jumped out of bed that morning with one question in my mind- sun or fog? of “The Hiding Place” and ending “The circle of white cotton tells us that when we’re feeling poorest – when we’ve lost a friend, when a dream has failed, when we seem to have nothing left in the world to make life beautiful – that’s when God says: You’re richer than you think.” So thanks to you and Corrie Ten Boom for blessing my day. Love, Mom
At first, I thought light smelled like coal oil.
Our farm home in the Oklahoma hills didn’t have electricity, so the amber light of coal oil lamps kept our family reading, playing, singing and generally contented during the long evenings of the late 1940s.
An admittedly naive editor believes the shimmering lights that he has seen, and hopefully reflected, in this lifetime will illuminate the town for another hundred years.
The thud of the home newspaper hitting the doorstep is a sound nobody should miss.
(“Light On Main Street”)
Thanks for sharing Rudy. That’s a great book and I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read “Light on Main Street”
I read the first sentence of books to get a feel for the author’s style. I often pick books to read based solely on the cover and its first sentence. I love the parenthesis way of looking at it. I may borrow this from now on and start reading the last bit as well.
I work for Rudy and i think “Light on Main Street” is a great book. Its written about the type of town where I grew up and feels like a bit of home.
I’m going to look at my own favorite books in a different way now. Thanks!
Thanks for the thoughts. And yes, I also place a lot of stock in a book buying decision on reading the cover/jacket/first page. Of course some
novels are spoiled by reading the last page first, so that’s something I only do when the rebellious spirit of immediate gratification strikes me (or maybe it’s just laziness!) By the way, you are blessed to work with Rudy. He’s a good man, even if I am a biased nephew.