Our 25 Favorite Opening Lines in Literature

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The opening line of a story is a tricky business. They are an author’s opportunity to introduce the reader to the world being crafted, but more importantly, a chance to invite the reader in. The opening line is the moment when a writer says to the reader, “Come a little closer. Listen. This is something you’re going to want to hear.” That’s a tough thing to get right, and while it isn’t the be-all, end-all of a great book, there’s just something to be said for a well-crafted opening line. We tend to remember the ones that speak to us.

For instance, I can still recall the moment I picked up Stephen King’s The Gunslinger in a small bookstore/coffee shop that sadly no longer exists on the sporadically reinvigorated main street of my hometown. I remember because of that opening line – simple, evocative, almost mythic. It seems to be the simple lines that speak to me; I still get a chuckle when I think of picking up Andy Weir’s The Martian to see what all the fuss was about and being greeted with, “I’m pretty much fucked.” That’s the beauty of a great first line. At times, the simple suffices (we’re looking at you, Mr. Melville). At others, a more meandering and circuitous form of prose sets the stage for what’s to come (hello, Messrs. Dickens and Chabon). Regardless, great opening lines are a rare creature. When you spot one in the wild, you’re not likely to forget where you found it. Here are some of our favorites.

 

The cover of the book One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

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

 

The cover of the book Moby- DickMoby- Dick

Herman Melville

“Call me Ishmael.”

 

 

The cover of the book The GunslingerThe Gunslinger

Stephen King

“The Man in Black fled across the desert, the Gunslinger followed.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Name of the WindThe Name of the Wind

Patrick Rothfuss

“It was night again. The Waystone Inn lay in silence, and it was a silence of three parts.”

 

The cover of the book Fahrenheit 451Fahrenheit 451

Ray Bradbury

“It was a pleasure to burn.”

 

 

The cover of the book A Tale of Two Cities

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

“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.”

 

The cover of the book Gravity's RainbowGravity’s Rainbow

Thomas Pynchon

“A Screaming comes across the sky.”

 

 

The cover of the book Anna KareninaAnna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

 

The cover of the book SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVESLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE

Kurt Vonnegut

“All of this happened, more or less.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Voyage of the Dawn TreaderThe Voyage of the Dawn Treader

C.S. Lewis

“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

 

The cover of the book Fear and Loathing in Las VegasFear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Hunter S. Thompson

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”

 

The cover of the book The Color PurpleThe Color Purple

Alice Walker

“You better never tell nobody but God.”

 

 

The cover of the book MiddlesexMiddlesex

Jeffrey Eugenides

“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

 

The cover of the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

J.K. Rowling

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

 

The cover of the book ParadiseParadise

Toni Morrison

“They shoot the white girl first.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Year of Magical ThinkingThe Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends. The question of self-pity.”

 

The cover of the book The MetamorphosisThe Metamorphosis

Franz Kafka

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

 

The cover of the book The Bell JarThe Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”

 

The cover of the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the GalaxyThe Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas Adams

“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

 

The cover of the book I Know Why the Caged Bird SingsI Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

“When I was three and Bailey four, we had arrived in the musty little town, wearing tags on our wrists which instructed – ‘To Whom It May Concern’ – that we were Marguerite and Bailey Johnson Jr., from Long Beach, California, en route to Stamps, Arkansas, c/o Mrs. Annie Henderson.”

 

The cover of the book The Princess BrideThe Princess Bride

William Goldman

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

 

The cover of the book The MartianThe Martian

Andy Weir

“I’m pretty much fucked.”

 

 

The cover of the book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & ClayThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon

“In later years, holding forth to an interviewer or to an audience of aging fans at a comic book convention, Sam Clay liked to declare, apropos of his and Joe Kavalier’s greatest creation, that back when he was a boy, sealed and hog-tied inside the airtight vessel known as Brooklyn, New York, he had been haunted by dreams of Harry Houdini.”

 

The cover of the book Pride and PrejudicePride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

 

The cover of the book The RoadThe Road

Cormac McCarthy

“When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”

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