“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” ANNA KARENINA (1877), Leo Tolstoy (via 20 Classic Opening Lines In Books | EW.com.)
I don’t know if I necessarily agree with all of Entertainment Weekly‘s picks for classics, but who could argue with that opening from Anna Karenina?
What opening lines would you pick as your “twenty best/favorite opening lines”? Conversely, what are the opening lines of your twenty favorite books? What’s the opening line of the book(s) you’re reading right now? Mine is:
“Inchmale hailed a cab for her, the kind that had always been black, when she’d first known this city.”
Interesting to think about what we know from first lines, from this first line. That we are—probably—in London (with those big black taxis), but what else? A certain tone perhaps—wistful maybe, somewhat detached and observant. Hard for me to be sure now what might be just in that line, as opposed to what I know from all the subsequent lines I’ve read.
It might be interesting to collect the opening lines of my books – the ones I’ve read, that I own, the ones I love. Even the ones I’ve lost—the collected opening lines like the ghost of my former library.
What would I do with a collection of opening lines? I can imagine alphabetizing my books not by author or by title but by those first lines, as is done in the index of collections of poetry. Or creating some kind of taxonomy of opening lines and using that as an organizing principle… An exercise in collectorship, connoisseurship, like Rob Fleming organizing his record collection by the order in which he bought them.
Not the Rob Fleming who is a Canadian politician, nor the other one who is an architect. The one from Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I googled the name and those other ones came up first. How many of you are there on Google? How many of you are like you? One of me lived in the same small town I used to live in. Another worked with Macintosh computers, like me, here in the Bay Area, like me. My doppleganger, but younger. A younger me. I should call him up and warn him about the rocky years ahead.