How many first lines from books do you have memorized?

There are a couple new biographies out on Ayn Rand. I read both The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged when I was a teenager. NPR, Slate, the NY Times…all have featured recent segments about the biographies, and I realized that I have the first lines from each book memorized.

“Howard Roark laughed” is the first line of The Fountainhead and “Who is John Galt?” is the first line of Atlas Shrugged.

Lessee…I also know the first line of A Tale of Two Cities. Other than that, none come to mind, although I know if I picked up many more classics I’d definitely recognize them. What’s the first line of The Catcher in the Rye? Probably has “crummy” or “phony” in it.

I’ve read The Great Gatsby numerous times, but I have no idea what the first line is. I’ll get up and go look…I’ll bet I recognize it.

Wow. I totally remember it:

“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”

Damn, what a great book. What great advice.

Ok. Catcher next:

“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.”

Again, I totally remember that. I could just sit and read books all night.

Next to Catcher was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

“You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.”

I made a small bet with myself that I wouldn’t have known that one, but I did. And I only read it once. Years ago.

I grabbed one more book…Trainspotting. I didn’t remember the line, but I liked it:

“The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling.”

Do you have any memorized?

Only one that I can think of and would swear to at the moment . . . The Good Earth:

It was Wang Lung’s wedding day.

Others that I have a rough idea: 1984, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, A Prayer for Owen Meany.

Just one. Catch-22. Only book I know the first and last lines.

“It was love at first sight” and “The knife came down, missing him by inches, and he took off.”

There’s “Call me Ishmael,” usually considered to be the most memorable first line in American fiction and the first line of Philip Roth’s The Great American Novel, “Call me, Ishmael,” the best takeoff in American fiction.

Only one.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”

I do know the first phrase of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is really all you need for a great first line:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, . . .

For some reason, the opening to The Dragonflight stays with me:

Lessa woke, cold.

Then there’s John Barth’s The End of the Road

I am, in a sense, Jacob Horner

Samuel R. Delany’s Dhalgren

. . . to wound the autumnal city.

Not many.

Call me Ishmael

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

In fair Verona, where we…do something or other.

In the beginning, G-d created the heaven and the earth.

Who is John Gault?

Europe has been at war for…

Wasn’t the first line of Roth’s The Great American Novel “Call me Smitty”?

Well certainly Gatsby and 1984, and also Pride and Prejudice

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

and the wonderful start to Bright Lights, Big City.

You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.

“We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” -HST

Besides the above, the famous first line from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time:

“It was a dark and stormy night.”

I’m guessing not, unless you have eidetic recall.


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

And, of course, the opening line of Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford

I mean, it might be of course that you memorized it. I can quote the first line and the rest of the prologue to The Canterbury Tales because Mrs. Gant made me memorize it 28 years ago, the first line being:

Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;.

dammit :slight_smile:

It was a bright, cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

If that opening line doesn’t perk up your interest, I don’t know what will.

No “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderly”?

Well, there is “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.”
dammit. At least he forgot the bats.

No wonder that stuff was so hard to read in high school :slight_smile:

That’s interesting, because Mr. Dant made me memorize the whole thing.