Famous Last and First Words

The DiCaprio film adaptation of The Great Gatsby reminds me that of all the novels I’ve read, it had my favorite closing sentence:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The novel with my favorite opening sentence is Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities:

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.

What are you own favorite closing and opening sentences?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

77 thoughts on “Famous Last and First Words”

  1. Moby Dick:
    Call me Ishmael.
    And I only am escaped alone to tell thee. [Technically not the last line, but close.]

  2. “Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. He leaned against the bar of the Old Home Sample Room, the gilded and urbane saloon in Cato , Missouri, and requested the bartender to join him in “The Good Old Summertime,’ the waltz of the day.”

    The opening of Sinclair Lewis’ “Elmer Gantry.”

    “I am all alone in my pad, man, my piled-up-to-the-ceiling-with-junk pad. Piled with sheet music, with piles of garbage bags bursting with rubbish and encrusted frying pans piled on the floor, embedded with unnameable flecks of putrified wretchedness in grease. My pad, man, my own little Lower East Side Horse Badorties pad.”

    The opening of William Kotzwinkle’s “The Fan Man.”

    “In the colony I’m known as Doctor Rat. Having been part of this laboratory so long and having studied so carefully, it’s only right I be given some mark of distinction other than the tattoo on the inside of my ear, a mark that all the other rats have too. Some of them have tattoos and V-shaped wedges cut out of their ears. Some even have three or four wedges cut out of their ears, but that doesn’t mean they are as learned as I. It simply means they have had the liver removed (one wedge), the liver and pituitary gland removed (two wedges), liver, pituitary and pineal glands removed (three wedges), and so forth. After they remove your heart, no more wedges are needed, ha ha! Then they just bottle your bones, bottle your bones.”

    The opening of William Kotzwinkle’s “Doctor Rat.”

    And here is Barbara Kingsolver in the opening of “The Poisonwood Bible” and then the closing:

    “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.”

    “But this time will be the last. This time, before your mind can calculate the answer it will wander away down the street with the child, dancing to the African music that has gone away and come home changed. The wooden animal in your pocket will soothe your fingers, which are simply looking for someone to touch. Mother, you can still hold on but forgive, forgive and give for long as long as we both shall live I forgive you, Mother. I shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of children to their fathers. The teeth at your bones are your own, the hunger is yours, forgiveness is yours. The sins of the fathers belong to you and to the forest and even to the ones in iron bracelets, and here you stand, remembering their songs. Listen. Slide the weight from your shoulders and move forward. You are afraid you might forget, but never will. You will forgive and remember. Think of the vine that curls from the small square plot that was once my heart. That is the only market you need. Move on. Walk forward into the light.”

    And then, we can thank Kurt Vonnegut for this closing of “Hocus Pocus”:

    “Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn’t mean we deserve to conquer the Universe.”

    1. I read Gatsby and A Tale of Two Cities for the first time in my thirties. Doubt I would have appreciated them as a teenager.

      1. High school literature classes are more learning some $200 responses on “Jeopardy!” than anything. Not that some teachers aren’t trying. Hell, most of the smartest students need about ten more years of life to be able to appreciate the contents instead of just learning to revere the canon.

  3. Corny but still good:
    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. (Opening of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.)
    Reader, I married him. (Cheating, as it’s the beginning of the last chapter of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë).

  4. I struggle to come up with something I like better than Gatsby. However, a close second might be the end of one of my favorite Ray Bradbury short stories, from which its title is derived. “There was a sound of thunder.”

  5. “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.”

    Though whether these words are great or the novel that follows makes them great is a good question.

    1. What? not the last line of Huckleberry Finn too?

      “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

  6. I don’t have any favorite ones (and if I had, they would change by the time of year, my mood, and countless other factors), but there are some good ones.

    For endings: “He loved Big Brother”. — Orwell, “1984”.

    Dürrenmatt’s “The Tunnel” also has an interesting ending, though I’m not sure whether one should call it good or just depressing.

    For beginnings: Probably half of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels (though in some cases, you’ll have to bend the rule and go for opening paragraphs/lines instead of sentences).

    “Watch …

    “This is space. It’s sometimes called the final frontier. (Except that of course you can’t have a final frontier, because there’d be nothing for it to be a frontier to, but as frontiers go, it’s pretty penultimate …)” — Moving Pictures

    “This is the bright candlelit room where the life-timers are stored — shelf upon shelf of them, squat hourglasses, one for every living person, pouring their fine sand from the future into the past. The accumulated hiss of the falling grains makes the room roar like the sea.” — Mort

    If we don’t limit ourselves to novels, the ending of Lillian Hellman’s “Candide” libretto is a pretty remarkable elaboration on Voltaire’s ending (which isn’t half bad, either).

    1. You mention the closing line of 1984; the opening line is also very famous.

      In general, though, I don’t pay enough attention to the craft of writing, and if anything less to this feature.

  7. The spooky ending of “My Dinner With Andre” (technically not the last line, but very close; and technically not a novel!):

    [P]eople hang on to these images of father, mother, husband, wife … because they seem to provide some firm ground. But there’s no wife there. What does that mean? A wife. A husband. A son. A baby holds your hands, and then suddenly there’s this huge man lifting you off the ground, and then he’s gone. Where’s that son?

    And “On the Road” has a great ending:

    So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.

  8. “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

    Kafka (Metamorphosis); first sentence…it definitely grabs your attention

    “She walked rapidly in the thin June sunlight towards the worst horror of all”

    Graham Greene (Brighton Rock); last sentence…that one chilled me the first time I read the book, and still carries power

    1. This line appears (slightly modified) in Mel Brooks’ The Producers. Max Bialystock is reading scripts, seeking the worst play in the world. He reads that line (modified to cockroach from insect). He discards the script, saying, “Nah. Too good.”

      Metamorphosis was later adapted into a reasonably successful Broadway play.

  9. Joyce, The Dead, last sentence: His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

    1. Brilliant ending. I first read that when I was 15, by myself in our family cabin in the Cascade mountains, and snow literally started to fall as I read those last paragraphs. Powerful stuff.

    2. Here was a special writer of first and closing lines. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man begins “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo” and ends “Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead.”

      Then came Ulysses: “Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed”; and “…and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

      Then came Finnegans Wake.

  10. (a) Openings that set the scene perfectly:

    I am a sick man. I am a spiteful man. I am an unpleasant man. I think my liver is diseased.
    Notes From the Underground

    He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.
    The Old Man and the Sea

    Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible few, that made him worth while.
    This Side of Paradise

    (b) The greatest opening and closing lines that need no footnote of attribution:

    In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

    After all, tomorrow is another day.

    (c) The best longest closing line

    So in America when the sun goes down and I sit on the old broken-down river pier watching the long, long skies over New Jersey and sense all that raw land that rolls in one unbelievable huge bulge over to the West Coast, and all that road going, all the people dreaming in the immensity of it, and in Iowa I know by now the children must be crying in the land where they let the children cry, and tonight the stars’ll be out, and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear? the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old, I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
    On the Road

    (d) The perfect bookends, from Flowers for Algernon:

    The opening line that that is most essential for everything that follows:
    Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on.

    And ends with the saddest closing line:
    P.S. please if you get a chanse put some flowrs on Algernons grave in the bak yard.

  11. This brings to mind Arnold Rimmer’s rendition of the first line of Richard III: “Now… that’s all I can remember”

  12. “A screaming comes across the sky.”

    “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.”

    Perverse, it is true, but I do love this one too:

    “Dear friend now in the dusty clockless hours of the town when the streets lie black and steaming in the wake of the watertrucks and now when the drunk and the homeless have washed up in the lee of walls in alleys or abandoned lots and cats go forth highshouldered and lean in the grim perimeters about, now in these sootblacked brick or cobbled corridors where lightwire shadows make a gothic harp of cellar doors no soul shall walk save you.”

    Nothing over the years has stuck with me as this final sentence has:

    “Oedipa settled back, to await the crying of lot 49.”

  13. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.

    (Hunter Thompson, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.)

  14. Famous last line; nonfiction, but who cares? It’s still writing, and remembered:

    It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.

    Famous first line (fiction):

    In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

    Does a good job of setting the scene, introducing the main character, and telling you the most important thing about him, doesn’t it? And all in seven words.

    1. Excellent choices. The first one I have used to show undergraduate biochemistry students that they, too, can win a Nobel Prize based on a one-page paper in Nature, if they are both lucky and very, very good.

  15. First Lines of Jame’s Crumley’s “The Last Good Kiss”:

    “When I finally caught up with Abraham Trahearne, he was drinking beer with an alcoholic bulldog named Fireball Roberts in a ramshackle joint just outside of Sonoma, California, drinking the heart right out of a fine spring afternoon.”

  16. From Earth Abides by George Stewart, which opens with:

    “…and the government of the United States of America is herewith suspended, except in the District of Columbia, as of the emergency, Federal officers, including those of the Armed Forces, will put themselves under the orders of the governors of the various states of or any other functioning local authority. By order of the Acting President. God save the people of the United States…”

    And ends with :

    “Then, though his sight was now very dim, he looked again at the young men. ‘They will commit me to the earth,’ he thought. “Yet I also commit them to the earth. There is nothing else by which men live. Men go and come, but earth abides.'”

    1. A lifelong favorite of mine; belongs on the same shelf as A Canticle for Leibowitz

  17. Tolkien scores on both categories.

    “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.”

    “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.”

    (Of much that could be said about the first, NB that T goes on for the rest of the paragraph to explain what kind of hole it was. Genius.)

    I also like Hemingway: “‘Isn’t it pretty to think so?'”

    1. Children’s books often do have great opening sentences/paragraphs. It’s as though the authors of children’s books work extra hard to engage their readers’ imagination. The Wind in the Willows is a good example, too (“The Mole had been working very hard all the morning, spring-cleaning his little home.”), and so is the Neverending Story (which begins with the image of the inscription of a book store’s door in reverse, e.g., viewed from the inside).

      And Inkheart is another great example of a children’s book that not only has a evocative opening, but a wonderful ending, too:

      So Meggie decided words would be her trade.

      And where better could she learn that trade than in a house full of magical creatures, where fairies built their nests in the garden and books whispered on the shelves by night? As Mo had said: writing stories is a kind of magic, too.

  18. Others have already taken my very favorite opening (One Hundred Years of Solitude) and closing (1984), so I’ll give one of my honorable mentions.

    “Listen:
    Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.”

    “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, ‘Poo-tee-weet?'”

    Both from Slaughterhouse-Five, or, The Children’s Crusade, by Kurt Vonnegut.

  19. First sentence of Earthly Powers, by Anthony Burgess:

    It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.

  20. Closing:

    Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. (Today’s rose is pure in name, now we hold no names.), Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose.

    Opening (Because my real favorite first line has already been cited.)

    “Truth be told, I’m not an easy man.” Richard Russo, Straight Man.

  21. Aujourd’hui maman est morte. Ou peut-etre hier. Je ne sais plus. (My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday. I can’t recall.)
    Camus “L’Etranger” (From memory. I may have tripped up)

    I am surprised no one has yet added “I was born.”
    Dicken’s “David Copperfield”

  22. Honorable mention to Robert Anton Wilson’s Schrödinger’s Cat, which begins:

    “The majority of Terrans were six-legged.”

    It ends:

    “Then they went to the bedroom, and–after circumnavigating the globe and passing through 10 to the 23rd possible universes–Ulysses finally returned to Ithaca.”

  23. “I have never seen anything like it: two little discs of glass suspended in front of his eyes in loops of wire.”

    From the stunning allegorical novel Waiting for the Barbarians by JM Coetzee.

  24. Not first or last lines, but these words by Hunter Thompson are imprinted on the inside of my brain:

    “San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of…There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. And that, I think, was the handle – that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting – on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark – the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”

    And this:

    “There he goes. One of God’s own prototypes. Some kind of high powered mutant never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

  25. “The September sunsets were at their reddest the week the Professor decided to visit Ain Tadouirt, which is in the warm country.”

    Paul Bowles, A Distant Episode (Short story, but one of the most unsettling pieces of fiction I’ve read.)

  26. Anna Karenina:
    Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

  27. Not actually the first sentence, but cited as such by George R.R. Martin:
    “You either bury that body in the woods tonight, or you finish your honeymoon without your mother.”
    – Mother Finds a Body by Gypsy Rose Lee

  28. “To be born is to be lucky” From Ride on Stranger by Kylie Tennant. The next line is just as good, ” Later, life may prove to be a failure or success, but that life is there should be a matter of congratulation, daily renewed. “

  29. Short story, “The Nine Billion Names of God,” by Arthur Clarke, last line: “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” Cliche by now, I guess, but what a line.

  30. For last lines, what Swift Loris said. Clarke’s short stories had lots of good individual lines — the ending of “The Star” is another: “What was the need to give these people to the fire, that the symbol of their passing might shine above Bethlehem?”

    For first lines rated purely in isolation I have to go with Peter de Vries’ line “Call me, Ishmael.” As first lines leading into a novel, “It was a cold bright day in April, and the clock was striking thirteen”.

  31. “The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.” This first line from All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy sets the mood, the tone, and tells the reader at exactly what speed the entire opening should be read. The mix of iambic and dactylic meters forces the reader to go slowly, and to feel the stately, somber solemnity of the occasion before that reader even knows what the occasion is. Long before the actual laying-out is revealed, the reader knows exactly what he is being prepared to see. Totally masterful.

  32. And for a closing, I am very happy to agree with Swift Loris: “Overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out.” from “The Nine Billion Names of God,” by Arthur Clarke. It still gives me the same chill that it did the first time I read it in “The Other Side of the Sky” when I was about ten years old.

    1. Add my agreement to that. I think I read it at the same age.

      The last sentence of “The Star” by Clarke is also a real chiller, a Jesuit astronomer contemplates an ancient supernova, once the home of a graceful civilization – I won’t actually give the last words as it would spoil the story for anyone who reads it.

  33. I’ve always rather admired Susan Haack’s opening, “Once upon a time–not so long ago, in fact–” from Evidence and Inquiry. The rest of the sentence is not nearly as amusing, however.

    But I tell ya, this forum is way too high-falutin’. What about
    King Merriwig of Euralia sat at breakfast on his castle walls. He lifted the gold cover from the gold dish in front of him, selected a trout and conveyed it carefully to his gold plate. He was a man of simple tastes, but when you have an aunt with the newly acquired gift of turning anything she touches to gold, you must let her practise sometimes. In another age it might have been fretwork.

    And
    Shortly after learning he was married, Gray Bridger realized he might need to kill his wife.

    And
    Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn’t go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his niece, the Princess Saralinda.

    Good gravy, I’m forgetting
    I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.

    and
    In the first place please bear in mind that I do not expect you to believe this story.

    And Clarke has another good last line in “Twenty years afterward, the remark didn’t seem funny.”

    (For my money, the funniest line in all science fiction is neither an opening nor a closing: It’s
    “Your guess is that you’re certain,” Trofimov said, feeling slightly dizzy.

    from Ford’s “How Much for Just the Planet?”)

  34. “Tell about the South,” said Shreve McCannon. “What do they do there? How do they live there? Why do they?…Tell me one more thing. Why do you hate the South?”

    “I don’t hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I don’t hate it,” he said. “I don’t hate it,” he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: “I don’t. I don’t! I don’t hate it! I don’t hate it!”

  35. TOTC also has one of the best last sentences:

    “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.”

  36. MOBY-DICK: “Now small fowls flew screaming over the yetyawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago.”

    1. I am endlessly amused that the young people reading that will imagine the sky a bright cloudless blue.

  37. Perhaps the ultimate last line:

    “VLADIMIR:
    Well? Shall we go?
    ESTRAGON:
    Yes, let’s go.

    They do not move.”

    And also, the beginning of Finnegans Wake, and the end, which loops back to the beginning.

    First Line:
    riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

    Last Line:
    A way a lone a last a loved a long the

  38. Thought of one that combines middle and high brow nicely: Behind every great fortune, there is a crime.

  39. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.

    Open sentences of 1984.

  40. Every one of Orwell’s novels, as well as his two non-fiction books, opens with a reference to the day or the time or an alarm clock.

    Novels:

    “Down and Out in London and Paris,” first sentence: “The Rue du Coq d’Or, Paris, seven in the morning.”

    “Burmese Days,” second sentence: “It was only half-past eight …”

    “A Clergyman’s Daughter,” first sentence: “As the alarm clock on the chest of drawers exploded like a horrid little bomb of bell metal …”

    “Keep the Aspidistra Flying,” first sentence: “The clock struck half past two.”

    “Coming Up for Air,” first three sentences: “The idea really came to me the day I got my new false teeth. I remember the morning well. At about a quarter to eight …”

    “Animal Farm,” first sentence: “Mr. Jones, of the Manor Farm, had locked the hen-houses for the night, but was too drunk to remember to shut the popholes.”

    “Nineteen Eighty-Four”: see preceding comment.

    And the non-fiction:

    “The Road to Wigan Pier,” first sentence: “The first sound in the mornings was the clumping of the mill-girls’ clogs down the cobbled street.” (nice alliteration)

    “Homage to Catalonia,” first sentence: “In the Lenin Barracks in Barcelona, the day before I joined the militia, I saw an Italian militiaman standing in front of the officers’ table.”

    1. Some of the opening lines of Orwell’s essays resonate as well …

      Dickens is one of those authors who are well worth stealing.

      As I write, highly civilized human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me

      1. Don’t forget the opening of “Reflections on Gandhi”: “Saints should always be judged guilty until they are proved innocent …”

        And “Such, Such Were the Joys …” opens with a reference to time: “Soon after I arrived at Crossgates (not immediately, but after a week or two, just when I seemed to be settling into the routine of school life) I began wetting my bed.”

        1. Nice one, or nice few! 🙂

          Just at random I picked out my facvourite essay “Shooting an Elephant”, and it begins (how could I forget!):

          At Moulmein, in Lower Burma, I was hated by large numbers of people – the only time in my life I have been important enough for that to happen to me.

          Definitely, this guy had something!

  41. Let’s see:

    “‘To be born again,’ sang Gibreel Farishta tumbling from the heavens, ‘first you have to die.'” – The Satanic Verses

    Kind of obvious, but – “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”

    “This is not for you.” – House of Leaves

    “When I was a young lad twenty or thirty or forty years ago I lived in a small town where they were all after me on account of what I done on Mrs. Nugent.” – The Butcher Boy

    “In a sense, I am Jacob Horner.” – The End of the Road (I’m pretty sure that’s how it goes.)

    Catch-22 begins “It was love at first sight” and ends “The knife came down, missed him by inches, and he took off.”

    “Once a guy stood all day shaking bugs from his hair.” – A Scanner Darkly (had to include at least one Philip K. Dick)

    And the first line from “Tristram Shandy”, which is far too long to transcribe.

    This is the tiniest fraction of what’s out there, of course. Perhaps more later.

    1. “It was love at first sight” is not an impressive first sentence; in fact, it is a cliché. But it’s a different matter when you read it with the second sentence: “The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

  42. ALICE was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?’

  43. “The last man on earth sat alone in a room. There was a knock at the door”.
    “Knock”, by Fredric Brown

  44. Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things:

    “May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, fatly baffled in the sun.”

  45. from One Hundred Years of Solitude:

    “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.”

  46. Final line, from Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen):

    “To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general’s unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.”

    I always bring this out when William Bennett types try to claim Austen as an exemplar of good old-fashioned values and earnest morality. Ha!

  47. “He was not a bad fellow, no worse than most and probably better than some and not a bad ballplayer neither when they give him a chance, when they laid off him long enough. From here on in, I rag nobody.”

    Last lines of bang the Drum Slowly, by Mark Harris.

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