They say the first line is one of the most important parts of a book*. Get it right and the readers’ eyes are all yours, get it wrong and they’ll start looking around, distracted by the feet of strangers or two birds fighting over a sandwich.
Over on our Instagram account (here, follow it here) we’ve been asking people for the first lines that have grabbed them. So, along with a few of our own personal favourites, and a pleasingly alliterative title, here are fourteen fantastic first lines.
One of my favorite moments in recent memory happened when I made the long trek from Houston to New Jersey in my slightly worse-for-wear 10-year-old Mazda Protege. I was moving because I had, once again, quit a job I hated and felt the only way to get certain influences out of my life was to physically move on. So, despite my parents complete opposition to the idea, I packed up my car and hit the road with my pup for a two-week long journey.
There were a lot of scary moments on that trip, moments that made me question why I would put myself through this when I could have easily just hopped on a plane, and even moments when I thought, “just great, this is how I am going to die.” But, the thing that kept me going was this inexplicably powerful feeling that this was something I had to do. The moment I decided I was going to make this big sweeping change in my life (again), I knew I wanted to take a long road trip and it had to be by myself.
I’m not sure what epiphany I thought I was going to come to on the trip or if I really even expected to come to one. Somewhere in the back of my brain I knew there was a reason why I had to do it, but that just wasn’t anywhere near as important as just doing it. It felt a bit like knowing the answer without knowing the question — like 42.
Anyway, New Orleans was first, then Birmingham, and then Asheville, Richmond, and finally, New Jersey. But Asheville. That was the city I was most excited about visiting, though, I have trouble calling it a “city” because I think I walked the entire thing in my first hour there.
The moment I’m talking about technically didn’t happen in Asheville, but rather on the way there. You see, I’ve never really spent much time in the mountains, we’re a beach family. So when the road began to twist uphill and the view to my left began to change, I almost swerved into oncoming traffic with what I saw.
I know it’s cliche, but they were just so impressive and powerful and majestic. But it wasn’t over yet. As I struggled to keep an eye on the twisting road and an eye on the incredible view, Fleet Foxes “Blue Ridge Mountains” came on my iPod and suddenly it was one of those crystalized moments where you really start to wonder about fate. What were the chances? (Pretty good, actually, it was on a small playlist, but destiny tells a better story).
Hats off to Fleet Foxes. It really is a perfect tune for the mountains. It’s slightly sweet, softly powerful, haunting, and full of nostalgia. I felt like one of those full-circle moments where you’re absolutely right where you’re supposed to be at exactly the right time. Everything’s OK. You did it right and you don’t have to wonder.
The mountains are there, as they’ve been for longer than we can fathom, just observing. And looking out at something so impossibly huge, that’s been there for so long, I felt small. But small in a good way. Small in that I should never really worry about what is going to happen because it doesn’t really matter. The people and the jobs and the meaning of life and everything in it. It will be how it will be and the mountains will still be there when it’s over and that’s monumentally more important.
For the rest of my time in Asheville, it felt like I was being both watched and looked after. The mountains, in some lights, looked quite threatening, looming in the distance, waiting for you to come just a bit closer. But most of the time, they appeared cool and quiet and lovingly stern, like a parent that had all of its ducks in a row and would like to keep it that way thank-you-very-much. That’s how it felt, anyway.
I felt a shift inside while in the mountains. I felt grounded and put in my place and it felt good in the way relief washes over you when for better or for worse you realize an absolute and knowing is better than not knowing. And it stuck with me all throughout the rest of my journey and even now, months later.
The Blue Ridge Mountains were at the heart of my journey and I missed them and that middle ground as I continued home. I always thought I would find an ocean in my heart, but after that moment, I know it’s a mountain. And it’s made me stronger.
“Reading is everything. Reading makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something, learned something, became a better person. Reading makes me smarter. Reading gives me something to talk about later on. Reading is the unbelievably healthy way my attention deficit disorder medicates itself. Reading is escape, and the opposite of escape; it’s a way to make contact with reality after a day of making things up, and it’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real. Reading is grist. Reading is bliss.”—Nora Ephron
I hear it a couple times a day, “I have just been so busy” and it’s the most boring answer to the simple question of, “how are things going”. I have been running Fohr Card with Rich and Holly for 3 months full time now and people ask me all the time, “how are things?” and I make a…
"You seem to think the writer has a choice—whether to work here or there or run off to a war. Maybe it’s an American middle-class question, because in most places writers don’t have a choice. If they grow up in the barrio, or get sent to the gulag, their experience is given to them whether they want it or not. Even here we respond to what’s given: I seem to be of a generation that has somehow missed the crucial collective experiences of our time. I was too young to understand the depression or fight in World War II. But I was past draft age for Vietnam. I’ve always been a loner. Perhaps for that reason I subscribe to what Henry James tries to indicate when he gives that wonderful example of a young woman who has led a sheltered life walking along beside an army barracks and hearing a snatch of soldier’s conversation coming through the window. On the basis of that, said James, if she’s a novelist she’s capable of going home and writing a perfectly accurate novel about army life. I’ve always subscribed to that idea. We’re supposed to be able to get into other skins. We’re supposed to be able to render experiences not our own and warrant times and places we haven’t seen. That’s one justification for art, isn’t it: to distribute the suffering? Writing teachers invariably tell students, Write about what you know. That’s, of course, what you have to do, but on the other hand, how do you know what you know until you’ve written it? Writing is knowing. What did Kafka know? The insurance business? So that kind of advice is foolish, because it presumes that you have to go out to a war to be able to do war. Well, some do and some don’t. I’ve had very little experience in my life. In fact, I try to avoid experience if I can. Most experience is bad."
“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks disappearing? - it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”—On the Road
“the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”—On the Road, Jack Kerouac
In college, I remember thinking that after school I would move to New York City, get a job at a fashion magazine, go to a great number of cocktail parties and eventually settle down and move to Connecticut with an investment banker husband.
Boy, am I glad things did not work out that way. However, I find myself in the very precarious, but not at all unique position of being 25 and single in a city I am not particularly attached to. It never occurred to me that I would be part of the minority of my group of friends that is made mostly of those in “committed relationships.” Yet here I am, and the thing that shocks me most is 99% of the time, I don’t care.
There is not a cell in my being that wishes I were in a relationship right now. I’m not settled, I’m still trying to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up” and honestly, I just don’t have the time or the patience to deal with anyone right now. I don’t even know where I want to live. Yes, I would very much like to fall madly and irrevocably in love with someone.Some day. Just not today.
I read Lena Dunham’s article on Nora Ephron the other day, and as she tends to do, Ephron summed it up perfectly: “You can’t meet someone until you’ve become what you’re becoming.” I’m still figuring out what I’m becoming on the most basic level and when there is a guy around, I tend to shape “what I want” around him. Even though I have yet to meet someone worth doing that for. So, I’m single for now.
Like I said, 99% of the time I’m glad about this. But there is that 1%. And that 1% is brutal. For example, the past couple weekends I’ve found myself (not by choice, I was unwittingly thrust into these situations) surrounded by couples. Couples are great. Most of my closest friends are in couples. I love love. But a gathering of couples is completely different from a mixed gathering or a gathering of single people. And I’m not just talking about the amount of alcohol consumed. In mixed company, I am totally fine. But when I found myself for the second weekend in a row as the only single person at a table of couples, I started to have real empathy for Bridget Jones and the urge to drink all the wine.
Meet my boyfriend, Cabernet Sauvignon. He’s French. We’re in a verycommitted relationship.
Anyway, I know it’s not theirfault. They’re just trying to learn how to navigate the world of moving in pairs, which apparently means many dinner parties that resemble first dates, only there are four and sometimes six players involved. Couples dating other couples, trying to land jokes, but having reassurances ready when they inevitably miss. It’s a lot of compliments and no one disagrees with each other, except the pairs themselves, sometimes, which is always the silver lining of hilarity.
I guess it’s a lot of fun when you’re part of a couple, but when you’re on the outside of this, the token single friend that can feel the pity radiating in their direction, it’s ridiculous. And occasionally, downright depressing. Does any single person actually enjoy visiting couple-topia? Why do said couples continue to invite one single friend to these gatherings?
My assumption is that they don’t want their single friends to be excluded from their new couple-oriented life. Which is well-intentioned enough, but tends to make one feel like the charity case they aren’t. So please, dear couples, stop. I’m not trying to be an asshole here, but going through that as a single person is enough to make anyone swear off relationships forever. While you are discussing the neighborhood and weddings and the nuances of home-ownership, the single person is wondering if they will ever have a real conversation again that doesn’t involve everyone just trying to be polite. And quite honestly, no one wants your pity.
I would suggest making time for your single friends separately from your couple dates. Or throw a big party with guests representing all relationship statuses. But never,everthink it’s a good idea to “surprise set-up” your single friends. It’s not. It’s probably one of the worst ideas you could ever have. More than anything, remember that while singletons and couples aren’t exactly like oil and water, you still need a lot of other ingredients to mix them together and bake a cake.
“Love is passion, obsession, someone you can’t live without. I say, fall head over heels. Find someone you can love like crazy and who will love you the same way back. How do you find him? Well, you forget your head, and you listen to your heart. And I’m not hearing any heart. Cause the truth is, honey, there’s no sense living your life without this. To make the journey and not fall deeply in love, well, you haven’t lived a life at all. But you have to try, cause if you haven’t tried, you haven’t lived.”—Meet Joe Black
The thing is, and there’s always a thing, no matter how much you tell yourself that everything happens for a reason or what sort of lesson you try to put on a particular experience, it really doesn’t matter. It already happened and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s that overwhelming loss of control that is the most unsettling no matter how many times you’ve experienced it or what variety of situations you’ve experienced it in. It’s crushing in a way.
I’ve met those people who can deal with these situations very well. They lose a job and they are empowered. They end a relationship, but there’s plenty of fish in the sea. People who can act without having to feel like there is enormous weight on every decision. People who can feel a feeling and let it go. And I think, how? How do they do that? Where’s the regret? Where’s the struggle? Where do the feelings go? Maybe they’re just better at hiding it.
I was watching the Woody Allen documentary tonight and you can see how he’s obsessed with certain themes throughout his life. Particularly mortality and death. Scorcese suggested maybe Allen makes a movie a year because if he doesnt he feels like he doesn’t exist. I think that’s why I write (and blog and tweet like a maniac). Not that I’m particularly concerned with my own mortality, but I’m afraid if it’s not out there, it doesn’t count.
I know I’m fighting a losing battle trying to validate something that wasn’t exactly there to begin with, but it’s this idea that reality isn’t lining up with what’s going through my head that has such a hold on me right now. How do you reconcile that? Or can you not? Should we stop trying to make sense of these things? Maybe none of it really matters because in a few years it will have all faded into the background anyway. It just seems sad that way, though. Yet the alternative doesn’t seem to be working out either. Feeling it all, all the time is a tough thing… I realize there aren’t answers, but I have this irrepressible urge to continue to ask the questions. I guess what I’m trying to say is, when things don’t pan out as you had hoped, is it really necessary, or even desirable, to understand why? Does that make it any better even if the result is unchangeable? Or is ignorance really bliss?
Tell me where you’re goin’,
What is goin’ wrong,
I felt you leavin’,
Before you’d even gone,
Hold me now,
Or never, ever,
Hold me again,
No more talk,
Could take me from this,
Pain I’m in,
Pain I’m in.
See the moonlight shinin’,
On your window pane,
See it leave you,
As faithful as it came,
So you don’t have to,
Or carry on another way,
Tell me what you were thinkin’,
To treat somebody so,
The care he took,
The lengths to which he’d go,
The coals are hot,
To walk across,
Without your shoes,
But in the end,
Know that you’ve got nothing to lose,
Nothin’ to lose.
“And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.”—
I have no idea to this day what those two Italian ladies were singing about. Truth is, I don’t want to know. Some things are best left unsaid. I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t be expressed in words, and makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a gray place dares to dream. It was like some beautiful bird flapped into our drab little cage and made those walls dissolve away, and for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.