“A man without hands came to the door to sell me a photograph of my house,” reads the first line of Raymond Carver’s short story “Viewfinder.” Albeit a brief and succinct sentence, he evokes such strangely perverse yet mundane and potent imagery—allowing the sentence to truly come to life and remain fixated in my mind for years. But when it comes to great works of literature, there’s something about the hook of a first sentence that has the ability to thrill and capture, and regardless of the rest of the text, engrain itself into your brain’s catalogue of page-turning memories long after.
And for all of history’s most famed and acclaimed novels, there’s certainly a wealth of wonderful opening sentences, which American Book Review have pointed out with a look at their 100 best of. From F. Scott Fitzgerald and Kurt Vonnegut to Saul Bellow and Robert Coover, below you can a handful see their selections for greatest lines—and for the full list, head HERE.
The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble?—Do-you-need-advice?—Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard. —Nathanael West, Miss Lonelyhearts (1933)
This is the saddest story I have ever heard. —Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
One summer afternoon Mrs. Oedipa Maas came home from a Tupperware party whose hostess had put perhaps too much kirsch in the fondue to find that she, Oedipa, had been named executor, or she supposed executrix, of the estate of one Pierce Inverarity, a California real estate mogul who had once lost two million dollars in his spare time but still had assets numerous and tangled enough to make the job of sorting it all out more than honorary. —Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (1966)
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. —Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)
Every summer Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife, Shuyu. —Ha Jin, Waiting (1999)
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. —Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex (2002)
Having placed in my mouth sufficient bread for three minutes’ chewing, I withdrew my powers of sensual perception and retired into the privacy of my mind, my eyes and face assuming a vacant and preoccupied expression. —Flann O’Brien, At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)
It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. —Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (1963)
I am an American, Chicago born—Chicago, that somber city—and go at things as I have taught myself, free-style, and will make the record in my own way: first to knock, first admitted; sometimes an innocent knock, sometimes a not so innocent. —Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
In the town, there were two mutes and they were always together. —Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940)
Bonus: Check out, The Atlantic’s collection of 22 writers’ favorite first lines of books.