opening lines 

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.

opening lines

brand loyalty

The other day I did a terrible thing. The memory of which makes me shudder with guilt and shame. How can I look at myself in the mirror knowing how I betrayed those dear to me. I let them down. I let myself down. Dear reader. I let you down.

As I was jauntily skipping back from the gym one fine Saturday morning – the sun shining down on me, and birds singing in the trees abandoned buildings (it is Shoreditch we’re talking about, here) – a terrible thought crossed my mind, like a black cloud moving ominously across the blue sky, threatening the previously idyllic day with storms and endless rain.

“What if”, this thought began “I tried that new coffee place on the corner for a change?”

And so it began. Once the thought made itself known, there’s no going back.

“It’s a new coffee shop”, it continued. “You love shiny new things” (the thought was right – I am fickle), “and even more than that, you hate the thought of missing out”.

How true! What if people in that coffee shop are having more fun than in my local? What if they’re somehow cooler? What if that coolness somehow, in some intangible way, rubs off on me? (The coolness would have to leap across empty spaces – no-one, and especially no hipster, was coming near my lycra-clad, sweaty self).

And that was it. The treachery took place.

As soon as I’d handed over my money I was consumed with guilt. I even seriously considered walking the long way round to avoid walking past Brick Lane and the scene of my betrayal – the thought of being caught out was too much to bear.

The need to be home and in a safe environment was too much. I decided take the risk of an accusatory stare from my local, and braved Brick Lane. No easy decision was this. I couldn’t chance being seen by the very same baristas that usually serve up my skinny cap with a trusting smile – how could I face their disappointment? In order to avoid this eventuality, I steathily became super-spy Kirby Golightly (an alter-ego that I developed whilst a kid growing up, that has come in surprisingly useful at regular intervals since), using such useful spy-tricks as “ducking to hide behind parked cars” and “hiding an open cup of coffee in my handbag”.

I made it home in one piece (and with a slightly damp handbag). Now was the time to savour my cardboard cup of caffinated goodness.

I sat back with a sigh and took a sip.

And you know what that coffee tasted of? The bitter tast of deceit. Deceit and disloyalty*.

Never again will I listen to that inner voice of mine.

Unless it knows of any good restaurants opening up nearby?

*Actually I can’t lie, it was a damn fine cup of coffee. I’d highly recommend this place (AllPress, on Redchurch Street, Shoreditch). But for me, my heart belongs to Brick Lane Coffee, and always will.