Monday, December 3, 2007

It's a Start, Part V

Today's "It's a Start" will highlight books from my high school AP English class ... way, way back in the day.

If you're new to this blog, It's a Start is an occasional feature in which we take a look at the first sentence (or so) of books picked randomly from the Acorn bookshelves (only this time it's not so random, I guess).

Each of the following books is considered a classic piece of literature, so let's see whether they manage to draw readers in with the first sentence, as today's authors are urged to do. Before we start, let me say that I tend not to care much for "classic literature," or any literature, for that matter. I prefer commercial, genre stuff. So if you disagree with these ratings, well, it's all good. Let me have it in the comments section. Note: Maximum # of stars = 5.

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. Ethan Frome, by Edith Wharton

Intriguing start. We know that whatever tale is about to unfold has been told over and over, so it's gotta be good, right? I love the voice here, too. Not "I heard the story," but "I had the story." An unusual turn of phrase to launch the book. In the interest of full disclosure, I have a soft spot in my heart for Ethan Frome, as I wrote the essay portion of my AP exam on it. However, I am confident this first sentence deserves each and every one of its stars: *****

The towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. Babbit, by Sinclair Lewis

Well, it's literary, I'll give it that. Would today's author get away with a semicolon in the first sentence? Hmm. I do appreciate the word choices, especially "aspired." So much better than "rose." If I knew what silver rods were, maybe the contrasting imagery at the end would have worked better for me. Mixed feelings on this one. Stars: ***

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 to know the truth. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Bingo!! Voice. Attitude. Even takes a swipe at a literary classic ... now, that's my kinda book! And, of course, the reader doesn't really want all that background stuff, anyway. We want to start where the action is, and that's precisely what this first sentence tells us our narrator is going to do. A great start to one of my all-time favorite books. (Hey, I said I "tend" not to go for classics ... there are of course some exceptions!) Stars: *****

When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. When it healed, and Jem's fears of never being able to play football were assuaged, he was seldom self-conscious about his injury. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

I love this book. I'm not so crazy about the first two sentences. But, um, it's Harper Lee. She seemed to know what she was doing. The day I can write a book one-tenth as compelling as Mockingbird is the day I'll criticize. Stars: ***

Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he was up all night, was seated at the breakfast table. Hound of the Baskervilles, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Can't help but read that one with a British accent, can you? Wonderful voice. I also love that it starts us out with a little mystery. Why is Holmes at the breakfast table already? Was he up all night? Or is he up unusually early this morning, and if so, why? Sir Arthur has me hooked. Nicely done, old chap. Stars: ****


Anonymous said...

You know what I really love most about your favorites here, is the fact that they begin with really looooong sentences. I’m notorious for that so I feel a fall sense of hope, if only for a moment. HA.

Kimberly Lynn

LindaBudz said...

Interesting observation, Kimberly Lynn! Goes to show, size doesn't matter!

Sara said...

I'm partial to the opening line of The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean: "I have been in love with Titus Oates for quite a while now––which is ridiculous, since he's been dead for ninety years."

LindaBudz said...

Wow, that is a terrific first line! Haven't read that one, but it's now on my list ... thanks for turning me onto it, Sara!

J said...

I really enjoyed this. It brought back memories of my favorite classes. I have always had a penchant for literary works. Thanks for the fresh look.

LindaBudz said...

Hi, J! Turned out I liked these sentences more than I expected. Even the Babbit one has such a nice rhythm to it. Of course, these are the "required reading" books that have managed to remain on my shelves, so maybe the ones I no longer own would be a different story ....

rilla said...

Hey Linda,
How about a turn on LOUSY first lines that made it anyway? Think that would be fun too.
But, while we're at it, how about this:

First the colors.
Then the humans.
That's usually how I see things.
Or at least, how I try.
You are going to die.

Yup, that's one book I laughed and cried through all five hundred and fifty pages. It's not just the beginning that grabs the reader.

LindaBudz said...

Ah, The Book Thief. I just went out and bought that this weekend. Have been meaning to read it ever since Julie Romeis from Bloomsbury used it as an example of voice at a retreat I went to this spring. Can't wait to see what the fuss is about!

Re: lousy first lines, since this is (usually) a random selection, there have been a few clunkers. Just my opinion, of course ... I'm not claiming to be an expert here. Mostly, I think, they have been older books. I'm guessing that's because there was less pressure in those days to start with a bang.

rilla said...

Hey Linda,
a word of warning. If you're going to read the Book Thief be sure you've freed up plenty of time. Once you pick it up... it won't go down until it's done. Did I mention it has 550 pages! Hope you love it as much as I did.
And, yes, would love to see those random 'clunkers' some time ;)

Danette Haworth said...

I love the first line from Ethan Frome--my favorite in the list!

LindaBudz said...

rilla, Ack! I'm a really, reallly slow reader, so that could be trouble! FYI, you can find all of my "It's a Start" entries here, clunkers and all.

Danette, Glad to know someone else agrees and I wasn't just being biased!