Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I seek a memorable, lasting, first impression -- one that will drag readers back to this blog week after week, putting pressure as it were on their very cerebral cortexes to ascertain what nuggets of truth, fancy, or downright stupidity await them.

Therefore, I invoke the muse of the enlightened first sentence -- a literary technique known to many but perfected by only a handful of the most deliriously talented writers.

Witness, for example, Camus: "Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don't know." (OK, you purists, I agree that's two sentences. But you get the idea.) Or Karl Marx: "A spectre is haunting Europe -- the spectre of Communism." Powerful, regardless of its veracity or lack thereof.

Everybody knows "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." But did you know that these are only the first 12 words of an introductory sentence containing 119 words and 17 commas?

No compendium of famous first lines would be complete without this: "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." Inspired!

The following, no doubt, is less well known: "The history of modern civilization is essentially the story of the never-ending attempt to conceive a form of government that approaches perfection despite the imperfections of the people who create it." One colossal gold star to anyone who correctly identifies the source. (Answer in next week's entry.)

Herewith, my all-time favorite: "Man was born free, and he is everywhere in chains." (Purists, you win again. Rousseau precedes this line with a three paragraph introduction to Book I of "The Social Contract.")

I invite readers to submit their favorite "first lines" and test this author and their fellow readers. Let's have some fun!


  1. Reaching from a dream, Terry Fox curled her fingers around a star. It fizzled and then popped, running down her arm like a rotten egg yolk.

    OK, if you object I'll connect the two sentences with a colon... but this is the opening paragraph to my as yet unpublished bestseller, "The Ha-Ha Cafe."

    I am delighted by the self-deprecating tone of your blog, which is cleverly designed to make you look like a literary giant among your slush-pile readers... you show-off! How often do you post? Can I win a bicycle or something if I visit regularly and leave comments?

  2. When Zarathustra was thirty years old he left his home and the lake of his home and went into the mountains. Here he enjoyed his spirit and his solitude, and for ten years did not tire of it. But at last a change came over his heart, and one morning he rose with the dawn, stepped before the sun, and spoke to it thus:
    “You great star, what would your happiness be had you not those for whom you shine?”
    “For ten years you have climbed to my cave: you would have tired of your light and of the journey had it not been for me and my eagle and my serpent.
    “But we waited for you eery morning, took your overflow from you, and blessed you for it.
    “Behold, I am weary of my wisdom, like a bee that has gathered too much honey; I need hands outstretched to receive it.
    “I would give away and distribute, until the wise among men find joy once again in their folly, and the poor in their riches.
    “For that I must descend to the depths, as you do in the evening when you go behind the sea and still bring light to the underworld you overrich star.
    “Like you, I must go under-go down, as is said by man, to whom I want to descend.
    “So bless me then, you quiet eye that can look even upon an all-too-great happiness without envy!
    “Bless the cup that wants to overflow, that the water may flow from it golden and carry everywhere the reflection of your delight.
    “Behold, this cup wants to become empty again, and Zarathustra wants to become man again.”
    Thus Zarathustra began to go under.
    (Nietzsche, TSZ, trans. Kaufmann, “Z’s Prologue” 1).

  3. "In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar. I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant."
    From the novel of the same name by Richard Brautigan
    I know this is indulgently fanciful in this day and age...probably Henry Miller's "I have no money, no resources, no hopes." from his Tropic of Cancer is more timely.
    What a great way to get to know someone and what an interesting blog.
    I'll be back.
    Good luck Ron.