More of Book Riot’s Favorite First Lines in Literature

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Dana Staves

Staff Writer

Going through life with an apron tied on and a pen in her hand, Dana Staves writes about books and food. She also writes a little fiction. She lives in Maryland with her wife, their son, and their cat.

It’s no mystery that we’re word nerds here on the good ship Book Riot. Heck, in the past, we’ve shared our favorite lines from literature, as well as our favorite first lines. Since a little time has passed, and new contributors have come aboard, we wanted to throw a few more favorites into the mix, give you more of Book Riot’s favorite first lines in literature.

I remember in grad school, sitting around my friend’s apartment, pulling books from the shelves and reading aloud the best first lines we had found. Because let’s be honest – you open a book in a bookstore, you read a first line…. and there’s a moment of judgment. To buy? To give it a paragraph? To put back and forget about? And as writers, struggling through our MFA program, we could only stand in amazement of what we deemed to be perfect first sentences, ones that took you by the hand (or the collar) and pulled you in.

So behold, the majesty of a well-crafted first sentence, offered up by a few more of our contributors.


Dana Staves

From “Music” by Ellen Gilchrist (from Rhoda: A Life in Stories)

“Rhoda was fourteen years old the summer her father dragged her off to Clay County, Kentucky, to make her stop smoking and acting like a movie star.”


Deepali Agarwal

From Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”


Derek Attig

From Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins

“Putting the prairie dog into the library was a mistake.


Kathleen Keenan

From I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”


Kay Taylor Rea

From Act Like It by Lucy Parker

Almost every night, between nine and ten past, Lainie Graham passionately kissed her ex-boyfriend.”


Priya Sridhar

“The Problem of Susan” by Neil Gaiman (from Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders)

She has the dream again that night.


Emma Nichols

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream.”


Cassandra Neace

From The Martian by Andy Weir

“I’m pretty much fucked.”


Kristen McQuinn

From Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard of Bingen by Mary Sharratt

“The most ancient and enduring power of women is prophecy, my gift and my curse.”


Christine Ro

From The Dumb House by John Burnside

“No one could say it was my choice to kill the twins, any more than it was my decision to bring them into the world.”


Claire Handscombe

From Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

“We were fractious and overpaid. Our mornings lacked promise.”


Jamie Canaves

From Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

“I am born on a Tuesday at University Hospital

Columbus, Ohio,


a country caught


between Black and White.”


Charles Paul Hoffman

From The Inverted World by Christopher Priest

“I had reached the age of six hundred and fifty miles.”


Amy Diegelman

From An Ember n the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

“My big brother reaches home in the dark hours before dawn, when even ghosts take their rest.”


James Wallace Harris

From Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

“I am an invisible man.”


Connie Pan

From “Lighthead’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Terrance Hayes (from Lighthead: Poems)

“Ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and children of the state, / I am here because I could never get the hang of Time.”