Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The First Sentence or Three

Happy New Year everybody, and welcome to the first I.N.K. blog of 2010. In honor of finding some firsts in nonfiction, I thought I’d try to dig up a few books with great first sentences or first paragraphs; the kind that surprise you at first glance and pull you into a first-rate story right away.

To begin, here are some attention-grabbing first sentences about animals. (Full disclosure: A couple of these come from our own I.N.K. bloggers):

“If you hopped like a frog you could jump from home plate to third base in one mighty leap!”
David Schwartz - If You Hopped Like a Frog

“Did you ever look a giant squid in the eye?”
Steve Jenkins - Actual Size

“Spiders were hunting long before lions and tigers. They were hunting even before Tyrannosaurus rex.”
Nic Bishop - Spiders

As another first for this kid-based blog, let’s add some openers from adult nonfiction too. I don’t know about you, but a little humor always pulls me in:

“As I write this, I have a beard that makes me resemble Moses. Or Abe Lincoln. Or Ted Kaczynski. I’ve been called all three.”
A. J. Jacobs - The Year of Living Biblically

“Welcome. And congratulations. I am delighted that you could make it. Getting here wasn’t easy, I know. In fact, I suspect it was a little tougher than you realize.”
Bill Bryson - A Short History of Nearly Everything

“I once joked in a book that there are three things you can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he is ready to see you, and you can’t go home again. Since the spring of 1995, I have been quietly, even gamely, reassessing point number three.”
Bill Bryson (again) - I’m a Stranger Here Myself

And check out these first few sentences about famous people who are going places. Some are old, some are new, and some are from adult books too:

“It was lucky that Christopher Columbus was born where he was or he might never have gone to sea.”
Jean Fritz - Where Do You Think you’re Going, Christopher Columbus?

“On most days, I enter the Capitol through the basement.”
Barack Obama -The Audacity of Hope

“I never knew when I might be taking my last ride. With so many ways to bust my butt flying research aircraft, I knew better than to think any test flight was routine.”
General Chuck Yeager -Yeager: An Autobiography

Here are some first paragraphs that make us wonder what the authors have up their collective sleeves:

“Mum says, ‘Don’t come creeping into our room at night.’ They sleep with loaded guns beside them on the bedside rugs. She says, ‘Don’t startle us when we’re sleeping.’ “
Alexandra Fuller - Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood

“Over ten years ago I stumbled upon an incredible discovery, a clue hidden in an ancient map which, though it did not lead to buried treasure, suggested that the history of the world as it has been known and handed down for centuries would have to be radically revised.”
Gavin Menzies - 1421: The Year China Discovered America

So. If you think of any books that include your favorite first sentences, please be the first to send them in! First things first; these evocative examples help the authors among us remember that our work has to shine from the very beginning.


Unknown said...

My favorite first sentence that I ever wrote is, "There are some natives of Australia who are famous for sleeping stark naked on frozen ground." (The book is long op.) As I mentioned once in a blog, it was my ex-husband's high school English teacher (whom I never met)who most influenced my writing. His advice, "Begin with a bang, end with a snap."

Linda Zajac said...

"John LaRoche is a tall guy, skinny as a stick, pale-eyed, slouch-shouldered, and sharply handsome, in spite of the fact that he is missing all his front teeth."~ The Orchid Thief, Susan Orlean

Gretchen Woelfle said...

The book I'm reading now, Claire Tomalin's SAMUEL PEPYS: THE UNEQUALLED SELF begins like this: "At seven o'clock on a January morning, as the sky over London was growing light, a row broke out in a bedroom between a husband and wife."