Favorite First Lines

So my writer friend Sharon and I were talking about great first lines of novels. This is a common topic among writers, because we’re always trying to come up with the greatest “hook,” or line, for our books. But she pointed out that every time she researches first lines (or famous first lines, hooks, etc.), it always lists the same ones, over and over. But surely fiction has some new ones! I’ll bet at least one book you read recently had a terrific first line. What are some of your favorites?

Sharon said this would be her submission:

“At this point in the story, Packard had never fallen in love, and didn’t trust what he’d heard of the lingo (forever, my darling, with all my heart, till the end of time, more than life itself, with every fiber of my being, oh my darling Clementine, etc.)  It sounded out of control to him, and messy.”


— “Train” by Pete Dexter


Love it.


I like some of the humorous ones I always remember. Love Susan Elizabeth Phillips:


“Phoebe Somerville outraged everyone by bringing a French poodle and a Hungarian lover to her father’s funeral.”


— “It Had To Be You,” Susan Elizabeth Phillips






What are some of your favorite first lines?

The 2009 Book Club List

Ornament made by Janelle, highlighting last year's book list

Ornament made by Janelle, highlighting a previous book list

Whoo-hoo! Our new book club list is in! I look forward to our new book club list every year. When my kids were very little, I never had time to read anything but the backs of cereal boxes and the occasional Parenting Magazine article about whether you should put your baby to sleep on her back or her belly (… it depended on the year). I’d read these random sentences while my children were in the bath, or try to hold the magazine steady while I fed the baby with my other hand, but I had “reader envy” big-time. My co-workers at the newspaper would go on and on about all the great books they were reading, and I’d listen wistfully, longing for the day when I could read two whole pages, straight through, without a small fry needing his shoes tied or a munchkin needing me to wipe the chocolate milk she just spilled across the breakfast bar. And soon — eventually — the day came! Now I read like crazy. And my book club has been a great source of joy — a seriously wonderful group of women who are smart, savvy and make me feel like a grown-up. Here’s what’s in store for 2009:

  • January: To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  • February: The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
  • March: Snow, Orham Pamuk
  • April: The Transit of Venus, Shirley Hazzard
  • May: The Hour I First Believed, Wally Lamb
  • June: Zorro: A Novel (P.S.), Isabel Allende
  • July: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  • August: The Devil in the White City, Erik Larsen
  • September: When You Are Engulfed in Flames, David Sedaris
  • October: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, David Wroblewski
  • November: A Mercy, Toni Morrison
  • December: A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens

Have you all read many of these? Tell me what I’m in store for. …

People-Watching: Part of a Writer’s Repertoire

People Watching at a Baseball Game is IdealAh – that thing we do when we’re in a too-long line at the grocery store, or when it’s 0-0 at the bottom of the eighth.


People-watching has always been fun for me, but since I’ve started trying to write fiction, it’s taken on a new twist.


I used to people-watch out of habit, I think. Or maybe it was just an insatiable curiosity about people, and life’s fascinating characters. I mostly people-watched to figure out relationships: I’d be sitting in the roaring heat of a UCLA football game, when the score was too depressing to watch, and decide to watch, instead, a row of seven people, all together. Two would appear to be parents, five adult children. I’d then ponder which of the children were siblings and which were couples. Sometimes I’d get fooled: a young man and young woman would get up to go get snacks, come back together, razzing each other, and I’d think “okay, they’re dating.” But then both would lean in toward the parents with such affection that I’d reassess: “Okay, they might be Continue reading

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