First lines can make or break a book, can’t they? First lines, first impressions. A good book needs a hook, one that catches the reader and keeps their attention from waning. Since I got a whole new collection of books for Christmas (re: Gifts for English Majors), I decided to compile a little quiz for anyone so inclined. Below are the first lines of some famous novels. To complete the quiz, guess what novel they come from and either leave a comment below or complete the quiz for fun. The answer key is below.
1. A screaming comes across the sky.
2. I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man.
3. It was a pleasure to burn.
4. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.
5. I am an invisible man.
6. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want the truth.
7. You better never tell nobody but God.
8. Marley was dead, to begin with.
9. Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.
10. 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.
11. That’s good thinking there, Cool Breeze.
12. I hope I will be able to confide everything to you, as I have never been able to confide in anyone, and I hope you will be a great source of comfort and support.
13. Among other public buildings in a certain town, which for many reasons it will be prudent to refrain from mentioning, and to which I assign no fictitious name, there is one anciently common to most town, great or small: to wit, a workhouse; and in this workhouse was born — on a day and date which I need not trouble myself to repeat, inasmuch as it can be of no possible consequence to the reader, in this stage of business at all events — the item of mortality whose name is prefixed to the head of this chapter (yes, that was one sentence).
14. There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.
15. The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.
16. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.
17. 124 was spiteful, full of baby’s venom.
18. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
19. Abandon all hope ye who enter here is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
20. Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach. This city is afraid of me. I have seen its true face.
Answer Key. 1. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow. 2. Fyodor Dostoevsky, Notes from the Underground. 3. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451. 4. Everyone knew this one, but, Jane Austin, Pride and Prejudice. 5. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man. 6. J.D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye. 7. Alice Walker, The Color Purple. 8. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol. 9. Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises. 10. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield. 11. Tom Wolfe, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. 12. Anne Frank, The Diary of Anne Frank. 13. Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist. 14. And another one… Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre. 15. Irvine Welsh, Trainspotting. 16. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar. 17. Toni Morrison, Beloved. 18. One more…J.K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. 19. Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho. 20. Alan Moore, The Watchmen.