Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Novel impressions

The best first lines are like a long tall drink on a hot summer day -- they beg a chaser. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Let the canned goods alphabetize themselves, says I; here’s a book that needs reading.

I put the Bible at the other end of the spectrum. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth.” That looks more like an end to me. Of course every author should know where he intends to go, but I suggest playing those cards closer to the vest. We know the deck is stacked, just don’t be too quick to tell us how.

Perhaps my religious education wouldn’t remain so sketchy if only the Bible started with, oh, maybe…

“Call me Noah.”
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” thought Eve.

Sure, the Bible is one of the all-time best-sellers, but that’s less impressive when you consider the number of salesmen.

Lewis Carroll says it best, “Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop."

And as I pound away at a work or two of my own, I've come up with a couple of axioms:

Don’t start reeling before you bait the hook.
Once you bait the hook, cast it before it starts to smell.


  1. Whenever I think of first lines I always think of "One Hundred Years of Solitude." But like almost everything else from that book, I just have no memory as to how Colonel Buendia got away.

  2. I admire your acknowledge to the book....I’ve have to admit it’s outside my obsession. I’m still in the train modus, and I think it’s too much to catch up with, and I realize I don’t think I have the time for it. I also agree with your perspective of the numbers of salesmen: It’s a crowd out there!

  3. One of my favorites is:
    There are no second acts in American life -- someone said that, or something like that.

    I tend to believe it. What happenend to the 2nd act? I guess it's becuz it's been a 1st Class Act from in the beginning.

  4. The bible is only a best-seller because it's given away.

  5. I always thought To Kill a Mockingbird started with, "Macomb was a tired old town when I first knew it." But the line is actually, "Macomb was an old town, but it was a tired old town when I first knew it." Then the movie started with "Macomb was a tired old town, even in 1932 when I first knew it."

    Proving that you can work these things to death.

  6. Some great quotes from you today...

    "Let the canned goods alphabetize themselves..."

    "Sure, the Bible is one of the all-time best-sellers, but that’s less impressive when you consider the number of salesmen."

    The second one is Mark Twain himself. If you put that in a list of Twain quotes, no one would suspect.

    WV: conicrat. A member of a political party that makes no bones about what it's doing.

  7. I'd agree with Earl, but you might get bogged down with praise.

    You might recall my recent complaint that novelists take forever, so naturally I agree with your point here. I thought contemporary writers would be better about this--there's a lot of competition for readership now, the internet as well as books. But it seems a lot of current writers--serious, literary writers--think they've got all day.

  8. I love this "I can name that novel in (x-1) words..."

  9. I agree with Julie !! Other ways a beautiful post !!Thanks for sharing..

  10. Hey, if you put your book in the drawer of every hotel room nightstand, I bet it would be bestseller too. ;)

  11. Gideon checked out
    And he left it no doubt
    To help with good Rocky's revival

  12. The Bible isn't a book. It's a collection of manuscripts, letters, and fragments of texts sewn back together as seen fit in the 3rd century C.E. Why, you can tell that even Genesis is not a proper book before you've even had time to sneeze at the mold because there are two versions of the creation story front and center.

    I'd like to put a dollar amount on what I paid to acquire that sentence, but the truth is that the student loan I was able to get (with low interest) not only gave me the dimmest of graduate educations (they couldn't help it that I was lactating) but also the house in which I'm sitting right now. (All that proper language so as not to end a sentence with a preposition.)

    $58.05 a month for ten years. Those were the days.

    The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society will sooth the furrowed brow (but not the aching soul). It reaffirms the ache magnificently.

  13. WCGB, of course, I wouldn't know that, having never ventured past the first sentence. It seemed over before it began. But I did google the potato peeler book.

    Banjo, I know. I thought of you. Hey Earl. Shell, I kind of liked that one too. Amy, that's an idea. And Dez, it's a great drinking game.

  14. My all-time favourite first line:

    "It took me a long time and most of the world to learn what I know about love and fate and the choices we make, but the heart of it came to me in an instant, while I was chained to a wall and being tortured."

    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts


  15. Allow me to quote from my autobiography, "I was born at a young age..."

  16. ....and once you catch the fish clobber it with a rock so it doesn't suffer (maybe not as good as the Eve line but I feel a need to contribute).

  17. so where is that first line from?

  18. Ken Mac: The answer lies in the first comment.

  19. This post made me giddy! THX, AH.

    Hey, how about MY fave:
    "Nel mezzo del camin di nostra vita, mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, que la dirita via era smarita" - the ONLY Latin I memorized ever...at Vulgar at that! ... but it's the ending that's brilliant "A riveder la stelle".
    And let's not forget the timeless, "It was the best of times..." - how come it applies to EVERY age?
    I read "100 Yrs" Twenty-Five Years ago & loved it. We are to read it for a book club for May...I wonder if it ages well.
    As to the Bible, I gave up after Genesis for part one, but did read the 1st 4 books of part 2.

    B-Sqrd -- too funny.

    And I'll leave you with "we skipped the light fandango"...should of been a book.

  20. I got myself caught in a vicious thinking circle. Why are there Bible salesmen if you can get 'em free in any hotel room? And considering our family stayed, say, 100 nights in hotels per year, and I am, say, 40 years old, I could have 4000 free bibles. So how in the world would a bible salesman make a living, if bibles are free?

    Well, duh, he'd be selling 4000 sure bibles to just replace my freetaken ones from those hotels!

    OK, I think I will go aphabetize canned goods. And wait to read more of hysterically provoking words!

    You are a gem, AH!

  21. I'm always wondering what you'll serve up to us after you reel it in, Miss Hiker.

    "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself."
    I love this, she could very well be talking to herself and I find that fascinating. And I loved "The Hours" as a bookend.

    As for the Bible, it's written for believers.

    B2, I believe you.

  22. ...dang, would be nice to at least remember the language I memorized...Dante's Italian.

  23. WCGB - you were the smartest grad student ever!

  24. Beautiful Novel LInes !!Thanks for sharing Karin !!

  25. B2: Reminds me of the Woody Allen quote that went something like, "My wife wanted to have children, but I convinced her that they would be too young."

  26. Trust Brenda to do the math. Those weren't exactly the salesmen I was thinking of, but that works too.

    Carolynn, another one I had to google. Seems to generate some strong feelings on both sides.

    Tash, so is that first line to Dante's Inferno? I couldn't even get thru that in English.

    B2'd guess several of us will be looking for that in bookstores.

    PA, works for me.

    And Paula, I absolutely love that book. So perfect.
    Earl, I wonder if I'll ever regain my taste for Woody.

  27. I know what you mean about Woody, KB. The quote comes form Without Feathers, I believe, which I read in 1977. Now, I couldn't help but think "Too young for what?"

  28. Your posts are made more complete by reading the comments.

  29. How nice it is when readers comment on WHAT you say rather than how you say it.