The Stylist has produced a list of people’s 100 favourite opening lines from books. I found this list pretty fascinating – as well as being slightly in awe that people not only had a favourite opening line, but that they could drag it up from the recesses of their mind. My goldfish brain means that as soon as I’ve devoured the book I’m reading, I then promptly forget the main character’s name, the general plot and whether or not the book has a happy ending.
It also makes me wonder why these opening lines stood out in particular – is it just that they are from famous or popular books, or has the line stuck in someone’s head for some other reason? Is it they way they sound on the tongue? The voice of the narrator? Some choice ordering of words that grabs your attention and makes you read on?
Something must have knocked away a cobweb somewhere in my brain, because I remembered how I was seduced by the opening lines of Lolita. It stayed with me (and I was even able to mis-quote it drunkenly for a while as a student – not the most fascinating of party tricks), not because of its subject matter or what it was talking about, but because of the way the words sound when you say them, The roundness of the vowels and the softness of the “L’s” mean the words fill your mouth in a satisfying and sensuous way – like rolling a lollipop or a cherry round in your mouth. I’d not remembered this for years, and was pleasantly surprised when (some of) the lines came back to me from the far reaches of my underused brain:
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita.
My search for this also came up with two McSweeney’s articles – the first updates the famous opening lines for the modern age (find it by clicking here), and another by John Andreini which provided alternative opening sentences to “A Tale of Two Cities”:
- In anticipation of her lover’s late-night call, Lucie slowly unbuttoned her bodice.
- Good times. Bad times. You know I’ve had my share.
- I’d just sat down to my morning pipe when there was a rap on my door, which, by sound alone, led me to believe it was a 5-foot-tall French chimney sweep with the gout.
- It was one helluva time.
- Marley was as dead as a doornail.