Book Beginnings & The Reactive
If you have listened to Late Night Library’s podcast with Masande Ntshanga, host Sean Aaron Bowers expresses his fascination with opening lines of novels. THE REACTIVE opens with, “Ten years ago, I helped a handful of men take my brother’s life.”—a line that Bowers says he will never forget.
The first line of a book can set the tone and pull a reader in. This is not a ground-breaking concept, but still fun to think about. Here are three that come to mind for me:
1. The Desert Places by Amber Sparks & Robert Kloss
"Who were you when the first breath of heaven burst forth?"
I bought this tiny beast of a book from Curbside Splendor on my trip to Pygmalion Festival 2015. I was immediately drawn to the beautifully raw and terrifying cover art. The book essentially plays on the origin story from the Bible in an even more nightmarish way. The opening line highlights only a glimpse of the striking imagery found throughout.
2. A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims
"What we know about the undead so far is this: they return to the familiar."
I know, I know. This book was published by Two Dollar Radio in 2013. But, how could I not include it with an opening line like that? As Diagram says, this book contains "so many layers of brilliant."
3. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
"All this happened, more or less."
Not my all-time favorite Kurt Vonnegut novel, but the opening line is so memorable. Right off the bat the reader is forced to question the reliability of the narrator, which creates a more interactive experience (at least for me).
Eric didn't want to be left out, so here are three favorite first-lines from him:
1. Speedboat by Renata Adler
"Nobody died that year."
I recall reading this book while camping two summers ago. It was cool near the water of Lake Erie and the kids were quiet and content for whatever reason. There are so many lines that shimmer throughout this book. It behaves almost like a flash-fiction or poetry collection, in that you can return to it time and again, picking up almost anywhere and still enjoy the work.
2. Art Does (Not!) Exist by Rosalyn Drexler
"This book will help me decide which project to present for an NEA Fellowship in Visual Arts-Based Performance, Video, and new genres."
Whether she's writing about UFOs abducting rockstars, her professional wrestling career, or a woman's romantic entanglement with her sophisticated dog, Rosalyn Drexler cracks me up.
3. Oh Pure and Radiant Heart by Lydia Millet
"In the middle of the twentieth century three men were charged with the task of removing the tension between minute and vast things."
A beautiful, politically-charged novel fueled by poetic prose and a profound concern for the human condition. Plus, magical realism, which is kewl, too.