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?