36 Awesome Opening Lines Of Books

Metamorpheses

The best writing advice* I ever got was to make sure my opening lines were great. To see why, look at the following opening lines:

1. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”  Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis (1915)

2. “The way you can go isn’t the real way”  Lao Tzu, Ta Te Ching (circa 500BC)

3. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949)

4. “FAUST: Here I am, then. Philosophy behind me, Law and Medicine too, and – to my cost – Theology…all studied, grimly sweated through; and here I sit, as big a fool as when I first attended school.” Goethe, Faust (1808)

5. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice(1813)

6. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.The Bible (circa 600BC)

7. “It was the day my grandmother exploded.” Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)

8. “Two households, both alike in dignity,in fair Verona, where we lay our scene,from ancient grudge break to new mutiny,where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.” William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet (1595)

9. “Story is about principle not rules. A rule says, ‘You must do it this way.’ A principle says, ‘This works…and has through all remembered time.’ The difference is crucial.” Robert McKee, Story (1997)

10. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1878)

11. “The Master said, ‘Is it not a pleasure, having learned something, to try it out at due intervals? Is it not a joy to have friends come afar? Is it not gentlemanly not to take offence when others fail to appreciate your abilities?‘” Confucius, The Analects (circa 400BC)

12. “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, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.” Charles Dickens, A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

13. “In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy. Praise belongs to God, Lord of the Worlds, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy, Master of the Day of Judgement. It is You we worship; it is You we ask for help.” the Quran (609)

14. “Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.” Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1979)

15. “All children, except one, grow up.”  J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan  (1911)

16. “Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of any argument of Aquinas, or catch suddenly meaning of a bizarre Eskimo fairy tale: it will be always the one, shape-shifting yet marvellously constant story that we find, together with a challengingly persistent suggestion of more remaining to be experienced than will ever be known or told” Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (1948)

17. “I am an invisible man.” Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)

18. “In the early summer of 2004, I got a phone call from Steve Jobs” Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (2011)

19. “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.” Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita,  (1955)

20. “For days, I’d been searching Mexico’s Sierra Madre for the phantom known as Caballo Blanco – the White Horse. I’d finally arrived at the end of the trail, in the last place I’d expect to find him – not deep in the wilderness he was said to haunt, but in the dim lobby of an old hotel on the edge of a dusty town” Christopher McDougall, Born To Run (2009)

21 .“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” JK Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997)

22. “This book is about the failure of companies to stay atop their industries when they confront certain types of market and technological change. It’s not about the failure of simply any company, but of good companies – the kinds that many managers have admired and tried to emulate, the companies known for their abilities to innovate and execute.“Clayton Christensen,  The Innovator’s Dilemma (1997)

23. “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.” Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961)

24. ” Listen to the reed and the tale it tells, how it sings of separation: Ever since they cut me from the reed bed, my wail has caused men and women to weep.I want a heart that is torn open with longing so that I might share the pain of this love.” Rum, Masnawi (1258)

25. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” Hunter S Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1971)

26. “Perhaps the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not YET sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favour; a long habit of not thinking a thing WRONG, gives t a superficial appearance of being RIGHT, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult sign subsides. Time makes more converts than reason” Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

27. “He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando (1928)

28. “It is odd, but on the infrequent occasions when I have been called upon in a formal place to play the bongo drums, the introducer never seems to find it necessary to mention that I also do theoretical physics.“Richard Feynman,  The Character Of Physical Law (1965)

29. “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way” Han Kang, The Vegetarian  (2015)

30. “As I grew up, everything started getting grey and dull. I could still remember the amazing intensity of the world I’d lived in as a child, but I thought the dulling perception was an inevitable consequence of age – just as the lens of the eye is bound gradually to dim. I didn’t understand that clarity is in the mind.” Keith Johnstone, Improv: Improvisation and the Theatre (1981)

31. “It’s a funny thing about mothers and fathers. Even when their own child is the most disgusting little blister you could ever imagine, they still think that he or she is wonderful.” Ronald Dahl, Matilda (1988)

32. “This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.” William Goldman, The Princess Bride (1973)

33. “If you’re going to read this, don’t bother.” Chuck Palahniuk, Choke (2001)

34. “The madness of an autumn prairie cold coming through. You could feel it: something terrible was going to happen” Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections (2002)

35. “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)

36. “When it’s two o’clock in the morning, and you’re manic, even the UCLA Medical Centre has a certain appeal.” Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind (1995)

* My good friend and colleague, James Malcolm,  told me this years ago, and I’ve endeavoured to stick to it.

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