Sunday, January 29, 2006

100 Best Lines

Another list for us to argue over. First of all, I don't see how "Call me Ishmael" is even on the list, much less number one. The opening of Moby-Dick is amazing, and I am marrying a man who can recite it from memory so it is also sexy, but it's not the first line that does it. I mean, "Call me Ishmael" is just not exciting by itself. And Lolita has the exact same problem: one of the best openings in literature, but it goes way beyond that short first line. The list is obviously seriously flawed.

I do love the opening line of Pride and Prejudice, though. Salinger is great. And Wharton. My old favorites, Virginia Woolf and Henry James are on the list. Middlemarch. And Dickens gives great first line. There are a lot of good lines here, in fact. The first line of Wings of the Dove made me fall in love with the book then and there, although if Henry James isn't your thing it might drive you mad. Speaking of which, the James Joyce ones make me want to scoop out my own eyeball with a fork, but I think that's just a personal thing. I will never get over my hatred of the moocow and the tuckoo.

And dude, #43 is not the first line of Pale Fire. It's the first line of the poem inside the novel, but not the novel itself. Who the hell wrote this list? Don't fuck with Pale Fire, people, or I will cut you.


Blogger K said...

That's very interesting. To me, the better lines on this list all seem to be from books I've already read, which makes me wonder how much familiarity has to do with it. Perhaps the first line isn't as important, as hook or repellant, as one might think. On the other hand, I now want to read Pynchon, but I have no desire to read Double or Nothing. (Which I had never heard of before.)

I agree with you that the first line of Portrait of the Artist is a definite contender for "tonstant weader fwowed up."

3:33 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Oh, I love "Call me Ishmael." It's so ambiguous. He doesn't say his name is Ishmael, or "I am Ishmael," and you don't know who is supposed to call him that or why he needs a pseudonym, if it is a pseudonym, or why that pseudonym. Maybe it was a command and Melville just left out the comma! "Call me, Ishmael, when you finish this book."

Okay, I wouldn't pick it as the best opening line ever, but I do think it belongs on the list. I really have no complaint with the first ten choices. My favorite opening line is from a short story and not a very good one -- it's that Tama Janowitz line that everyone seems to agree is the best thing she ever wrote, just that one sentence: "After I became a prostitute, I had to deal with penises of every imaginable shape and size."

11:36 AM  
Blogger mo pie said...

Or "Call me, Ishmael, for a good time." You do have a point. I mean if you start thinking about the meaning of the name Ishmael and the relationship to the theme of the book, it gets a lot more interesting. I still say it's not number one though!

11:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Call me Ishmael." I can recite that line FROM MEMORY! The "best" list is more like a "best known" list, so give it a break. There could be many awful books with wonderful first lines that will never make the cut. The first line of Gravity's Rainbow and Finnegan's Wake are probably on the list because that's as far as most people get! Maybe that's also true for Moby-Dick.

Speaking of which, whenever I see the first line of GR, I imagine it as spoken by Baba Wawa: "A scweeaming comes acwoss the sky."


9:43 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

No first line has ever stuck in my head like Marquez's opening to One Hundred Years of Solitude: "Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

8:58 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Agreed on opening line vs. opening salvo (paragraph). Many have noted the opening Pynchon line in Gravity's Rainbow so far, but it's just a fragment of an opening two paragraphs that are so good, I can't get past them:

"A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.
It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it's all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No lights anywhere. Above him lift girders old as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it's night. He is afraid of the way the glass will fall--soon--it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace. But coming down in total blackout, without one glint of light, only great invisible crashing."

So...yeah. Opening line, schopening line.

7:09 AM  

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