My Favorite Opening Lines in Literature

Opening lines! Some of them are grand or intriguing or unique enough to set the tone for the whole book, while others are conversational and drop you right in, as if you were speaking to the narrator yourself. Here are some of my favorites below…

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Isn’t this sentence a perfect opener? It sets up the entire rest of the book – immediately you wonder why he’s facing a firing squad, why it makes him think of ice of all things, what else has happened in his life, and what an interesting life it must have been…

Dear Nancy,

I’m about as far away from you as I’ve ever been – a hotel (the hotel, actually) in Pailin, a miserable one-horse dunghole in northwest Cambodia, home to those not-so-adorable scamps, the Khmer Rouge. Picture this: a single swayback bed, a broken TV set that shows only fuzzy images of Thai kick-boxing, a tile floor with tiles halfway up the wall and a drain in the middle – as if the whole room were designed to be quickly and efficiently hosed down. There’s one lightbulb, a warped dresser, and a complimentary plastic comb with someone else’s hair in it. In spite of the EZ Clean design features, there are suspicious and dismaying stains on the walls. About two thirds of the way up one wall, there are what look like bloody footprints and – what do they call it, arterial spray? How they got there, so high up, I can only guess. The wall opposite has equally sinister stains – evidence of a more opaque substance – these suggesting a downward dispersal. Having seen the bathroom, I can’t blame the perpetrator for anything.

A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain

I’ve read most of Bourdain’s books, and he’s such a gifted, funny storyteller that this quote remains one of my favorite opening lines out of any book, not just his own. His sense for detail is amazing – descriptive enough that you feel like you’re traveling with him around the world, but never so much that you get bored.

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into an enormous insect.

Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

Confession: I hated this book. Like, wanted to throw it across the room when I finished, kind of hated. But I will begrudgingly admit that this opener is compelling.

It was a pleasure to burn.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

So succinct, so good. Foreboding, Instantly sets the mood for the book.

Once upon a time, a girl named September grew very tired indeed of her parents’ house, where she washed the same pink-and-yellow teacups and matching gravy boats every day, slept on the same embroidered pillow, and played with the same small and amiable dog. Because she had been born in May, and because she had a mole on her left cheek, and because her feet were very large and ungainly, the Green Wind took pity on her and flew to her window one evening just after her twelfth birthday. He was dressed in a green smoking jacket, and a green carriage-driver’s cloak, and green jodhpurs, and green snowshoes. It is very cold above the clouds in the shantytowns where the Six Winds live.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Catherynne M. Valente

This was one of the most charming, whimsical books I’ve ever read, and its first sentences perfectly reflect that.

They shoot the white girl first. With the rest they take their time.

Paradise, Toni Morrison

Utterly chilling. I haven’t read Paradise, but it’s on my TBR.

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, J.K. Rowling

Is this not one of the most-read, iconic opening lines of all time? It’s nothing profound, and yet it instantly takes me back to the entire Harry Potter world. I love that writing can do that.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

And finally…I can’t not include possibly the opening line of opening lines. A classic for a reason!

(prompt; photo)

2 thoughts on “My Favorite Opening Lines in Literature

  1. A Tale of Two Cities has the best opening and my favorite final lines as well. I swear I didn’t see the love for that book and was kind of confused until I read the last lines! It’s one of my favorite classics now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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