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17 of the Best Opening Lines in Literature

Some of our favorites

The opening sentence of a book can determine a lot of things (including whether or not you decide to keep going with said book). It's the author's first invitation into a world of their own creation. They can be long, descriptive, run-on sentences that prepare you for everything you're about to see; laying it all out on the table. Or, they can be short, concise, small, quiet yet poetic sentences; not revealing much, but urging you to read more. Opening sentences stick with you in a way unlike any other quotes because they are forever the first words you associate with reading that specific work. They're the first things you see when you open the pages to chapter one. (Bonus points: they're also the sentences you've read more than any other sentences if you're at all like me and like to start re-reading books you love a lot, but never quite get around to finishing your re-reads because there are too many books and so little time.)

 

A good opener embeds itself in your memory; arising to your conscious at the most obscure times. They are the lines we scribble in our journals, slur to strangers when we're tipsy at the bar, recite to ourselves when we're sleepy on our long commutes home, quote in our poems and wedding vows, tattoo onto our bodies to prove our love of literature, and share with those closest to us in the middle of the night while we bare our souls.

 

And, personally, if there's one thing I love (almost) as much as some good quotes, it's lists of good quotes. Yay, words! Yay, opening sentences! Yay, lists!

 

1. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

"It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” 

 

2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

"A screaming comes across the sky."

 

3. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

"Time is not a line but a dimension, like the dimensions of space.”

 

4. Blue Nights by Joan Didion

"In certain latitudes there comes a span of time approaching and following the summer solstice, some weeks in all, when the twilights turn long and blue."

 

5. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

"It was a pleasure to burn."

 

6. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show."

 

7. The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

"Forty minutes later he was up in the sky."

 

8. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

"We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold."

 

9. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

"I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974."

 

10. The Waves by Virginia Woolf

"The sun had not yet risen."

 

11. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

"The time traveler (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us." 

 

12. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins."

 

13. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

"All this happened, more or less."

 

14. Sellevision by Augusten Burroughs

"You exposed your penis on national television, Max."

 

15. The Trial by Franz Kafka

"Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested."

 

16. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

 

17. Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

"You’ve got to climb to the top of Mount Everest to reach the Valley of the Dolls."

 

Via Giphy

Via Giphy

 

Featured Image via The Reading Room