Saturday, June 14, 2008

Famous First Lines, Real and Imagined

Here are some interesting facts about a very interesting man. Fredric Brown often worked out the plots to his novels while taking long, solitary bus trips to nowhere and back. He is one of the three dedicatees in Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (the other two are Philip Jose Farmer and Robert Cornog). Philip K. Dick was undoubtedly influenced by Brown. Ayn Rand praised him as "one of today's romanticists". Donald Westlake is also among his admirers.

He was also one of those authors who wrote wonderful opening lines. His novel Knock Three-One-Two begins with this: "He had a name, but it doesn't matter; call him the psycho."

Speaking of which, here is a rather tiresome list of Best First Lines chosen by the editors of American Book Review. I won't deny that some of these are really good, but many of them seem to have been chosen simply because they are the first lines of, ahem, IMPORTANT NOVELS. I also wonder how many of these would seem impressive if we didn't already know the story that was to follow. Is the first line of Catch 22 really all that great? It's the second line of that novel that seals the deal after all: "The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him. " And, as usual, the Toni Morrison quote is just silly.

Here's another collection.
I think I prefer many of these.

The Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose University sponsors the Bulwer Lytton contest for the best first line of an imaginary bad novel. There's a kind of snootiness about that contest that annoys me, however. Why settle for condescending imaginary first lines when you can read these from Harry Stephen Keeler?

Here's something cool: a collection of first lines from NanoWrimo novels .

And here's a mind bending collection that makes no claims about the merit of the line itself.

I can find no online collections of great novel dedications. I'll bet there are some gems out there.

Here's my favorite first line from a non-fiction book. Dariel Fitzkee's Showmanship for Magicians begins this way: "The fact that I feel there to be a definite need for this book is evidenced by my having written it."