First Sentence

Mesmerized by the arresting beauty of the first sentence in a book he had started reading, he thought: Do not judge a book by its cover, judge it by its first sentence. The next instant he was at his bookshelf picking out titles and looking for first sentences…

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

One Hundred Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

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 Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams)

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)

I used to have a cat, an old fighting tom, who would jump through the open window by my bed in the middle of the night and land on my chest.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Annie Dillard)

My suffering left me sad and gloomy.

Life of Pi (Yann Martel)

While the present century was in its teens, and on one shiny morning in June, there drove up to the great iron gate of Miss Pinkerton’s academy for young ladies, on Chiswick Mall, a large family coach, with two fat horses in blazing harness, driven by a fat coachman in a three-cornered hat and wig, at the rate of four miles an hour.

Vanity Fair (W.M.Thackeray)


Adventures of Tom Sawyer (Mark Twain)

My mother asked me to go with her to sell the house.

Living to tell the tale (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)

Kublai Khan does not necessarily believe in everything Marco Polo says when he describes the cities visited on his expeditions, but the emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his.

Invisible Cities (Italo Calvino)

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

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s stone (J.K.Rowling)

Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D.H.Lawrence)

Ah, the merry month of May!… Spring, the sweet spring … Cuckoo, jug-jug, pu-we, to-witta-woo!

Adventures of Tintin: The Castafiore Emerald (Herge)

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Chandran was just climbing the steps of the College Union when Natesan, the secretary, sprang on him and said, ‘You are just the person I was looking for. You remember your old promise?’

The Bachelor of Arts (R.K.Narayan)

The first Wednesday in every month was a Perfectly Awful Day – a day to be awaited with dread, endured with courage, and forgotten with haste.

Daddy Long-Legs (Jean Webster)

May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month.

The God of Small Things (Arundhati Roy)

He lives in a one-room flat near Mowbray railway station, for which he pays eleven guineas a month.

Youth (J.M.Coetzee)

Except for the Marabar Caves – and they are twenty miles off – the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary.

A Passage to India (E.M.Forster)

People here in Western civilization say that tourists are no different from apes, but on the Rock of Gibraltar, one of the Pillars of Hercules, I saw both tourists and apes together, and I learned to tell them apart.

The Pillars of Hercules (Paul Theroux)

10 thoughts on “First Sentence

  1. You are right, first sentence has to be provocative. Of all the examples you have provided, I don’t think all of them have great first sentences, but still are wonderful books.
    I recently ‘listened’ to A passage to India. Loved every moment of it. Such vividness.

  2. “There will soon be more people living in the city of Bombay than on the continent of Australia.”

    Maximum City (Suketu Mehta)

  3. Alpha, the list was more of the kind where the first sentence reflected the essence of the book rather well, than one with great first sentences. I found the resonance of some of those sentences only after I read the book.

    Listening to a book is something I haven’t tried: my drive to work lasts less than 10 minutes. But about listening to A Passage to India, I wonder how it feels to hear Indian and English characters speaking through the same voice. Did the narrator vary the accents while switching between characters? Did that sound natural?

    Leela, that is an alarming statistic. Imagine the possiblities in such a city!

  4. Yes, the narrator did an awesome job..tis to be heard to be believed. He switched from British accent to Indian accent pretty well. He even used female voices when appropriate. Other than on a long drive, I don’t see myself listening to books…like at home or something.

  5. Anita, it was actually the first sentences in each of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities that got me thinking about the power of first sentences.

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