If I were writing a book, I am sure that I would take great care with the very first sentence. You never get a second chance, as they say. I know that authors are aware of this, and so, like many others, I take a special interest in the first sentences of books. I have a few favourites.
Most people know the first sentence of Pride and Prejudice, and with good reason:
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Hardly less famous, and equally fitting, is the opening of Anna Karenina:
Happy families are all alike; unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.
But then I have a few personal favourites that are perhaps less well-known. For instance, I’m partial to the opening of Kafka’s The Trial:
Someone must have been telling lies about Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.
In one sentence it not only introduces the main character and sets the narrative tone, but even slips in the central struggle of the novel against an irrational bureaucracy. It’s a marvel of economy. Another personal favourite is Frederick Buechner’s Godric, which begins:
Five friends I had, and three of them snakes.
(Actually, now that I check it, I see that it says, “Five friends I had, and two of them snakes.” That’s good, though I think my version an incremental improvement.)
It’s not only fictional works that have memorable beginnings. The first sentence of John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society is wonderfully wry:
Wealth is not without its advantages and the case to the contrary, although it has often been made, has never proved widely persuasive.
And who could possibly forget the opening sentiment of Burrell’s Nonperturbative Aspects of B Meson Decays?
The Standard Model (SM) of particle physics is a theory of the basic constituents of matter and their interactions.
I know that I am not alone in this enthusiasm. If you’ve a favourite first line and would care to share it, please leave a comment!