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Auntie Prism
(stardust savant)
02/25/11 05:27 PM
Opening lines [re: ]  

In desperation, I've turned to LiveJournal's Writer's Block facility to generate threads. LJ is populated by millions of users that don't write about their nonexistent lives in their badly-written journals, and Writer's Block is there to provide some gentle prodding.

Most of the suggestions are cack, but I'm going to post two. Here's the first one:

What is your favorite opening line of a book, and why? [5 Feb 2011]

Optional questions: where did the fascination with opening lines come from? And why should we care?

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows

(wise like orangutan)
02/25/11 06:55 PM
Le Samourai FTW new [re: Auntie Prism]  

To tackle the second question first:

In the introductory of post of his Opening Shots Project, Jim Emerson says:

Any good movie -- heck, even the occasional bad one -- teaches you how to watch it. And that lesson usually starts with the very first image.... The opening shot can tell us a lot about how to interpret what follows. It can even be the whole movie in miniature

I certainly admire the notion, though I'm not sure it applies quite so directly to books, if only because a picture's worth a thousand words, dontchaknow, and a moving one thus worth 30,000 per second.

The lines I think of off the top of my head are the obvious ones:

"Call me Ishmael"
"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
"A screaming comes across the sky."
"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."
"Money...in a voice that rustled...."

Which seems partly a function of the degree of success with which they fulfill the "introducting the work" aspect, but also because they are short and pithy and thus easy to remember. In fact, other than the alliterative Nabokov, I'm not sure I can say that any of them hold much discrete value outside the context of the books that follow.

i'm 2 much for these niggas and 3 much for these hos

(cracked actor)
02/26/11 02:07 AM
Re: Le Samourai FTW new [re: Marquis]  

"Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me."


(stardust savant)
02/26/11 08:22 AM
Re: Le Samourai FTW new [re: Mxy]  

"It was a clean, well-lighted place."

Auntie Prism
(stardust savant)
02/27/11 03:56 PM
To Athené then new [re: Marquis]  

Interesting that we're not bothering to give authors' names. The unwritten rule, of course, is that you're a schmuck if you don't recognise them.

In reply to:

I certainly admire the notion, though I'm not sure it applies quite so directly to books …

Yeah, I began by thinking I'd just list my favourite books, but several have oblique beginnings that don't set a scene as fully or impressively as an image could. Consequently, I'm not sure that novels could or should attempt something similar with an opening line. On favourite books: perhaps if we allowed paragraphs, I'd give Fuentes' Terra Nostra and Broch's The Death of Virgil a nod (as the writers themselves are sometimes grouped in the Melville/Pynchon/Gaddis bracket, and I quite like them). The opening for Howards End is pretty tepid: 'One may as well begin with Helen's letters to her sister'. ZZZzzzz. (Though Howards End is fantastic.)

I doubt the same fascination with opening lines existed a century ago—hence my ambiguously-phrased second question. I guess it's more for passing amusement that the opening line/shot can be used for some metacommentary/stylized tricks/whathaveyou, but the idea that it could contain the entire book/film in miniature is a little bizarre.

I was going to say that La Samourai is a great film, although I don't remember the opening shot. But, actually, I do; it's the guy lying on his bed, smoking. For several minutes.

A couple of opening lines from Borges:

I owe the discovery of Uqbar to the conjunction of a mirror and an encyclopedia.

I remember him (I scarcely have the right to use this ghostly verb; only one man on earth deserved the right, and he is dead), I remember him with a dark passionflower in his hand, looking at it as no one has ever looked at such a flower, though they might look from the twilight of the day until the twilight of night, for a whole life long.

Rather than words comes the thought of high windows

(Reality Ale)
03/05/11 06:30 PM
Re: Opening lines new [re: Auntie Prism]  

'It was the day my grandmother exploded. I sat in the crematorium, listening to my Uncle Hamish quietly snoring in harmony to Bach's Mass in B Minor, and I reflected that it always seemed to be death that drew me back to Gallanach"

My all time favourite from Iain Bank's "The Crow Road"

The more things change... the more irritating it gets

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