Hooked From Page One: 10 Memorable Opening Lines

Editor's Note:

If you’re stirred by these author quotes, amble down our archive for more.

In his Politics, Aristotle declared that “Well begun is half done.” Certainly, one of the best ways an author can make sure we’ll stick with them till page 500 is to hook us with a devastating opening line. Some are so famous, it’s hard to remember what it felt like to read them for the first time — like when C.S. Lewis opened Voyage of the Dawn Treader with: “There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.”

Below are selections of first-page offerings which set the reader off at a gallop, before they even quite knew they were in the saddle. Relax, you’re in (terrifyingly) capable hands.

1. Donna Tartt, The Secret History, 1992
“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?”

2. Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl, Beautiful Creatures, 2013
“There are only two kinds of people in our town. ‘The stupid and the stuck,’ my father had affectionately classified our neighbors. ‘The ones who are bound to stay or too dumb to go. Everyone else finds a way out.'”

3. Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”

4. Georges Bataille, The Story of the Eye, 1928
“I grew up very much alone, and as far back as I recall I was frightened of anything sexual.”

5. Katherine Dunn, Geek Love, 1989
“‘When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets,’ Papa would say, ‘she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing.'”

6. Hanns Heinz Ewers, Alraune, 1916
“You cannot deny, my dear friend, that there are in existence creatures who are neither man nor beast, but strange unearthly creations, born of the nefarious passions that arise in distorted minds.”

7. Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, 1927
“I first heard Personville called Poisonville by a red-haired mucker named Hickey Dewey in the Big Ship in Butte. He also called his shirt a shoit.”

8. Nina Simone, I Put a Spell On You, 1992
“When I used to get blue years ago James Baldwin would say the same thing to me each time, ‘This is the world you have made for yourself Nina, now you have to live in it.'”

9. Valerie Martin, The Great Divorce, 1994
“The contemporary zoo, the ‘Zoo Eden,’ is the final irony: a false paradise in which the last representatives of soon to be extinct species are displayed to a public eager to be absolved for their distinction.The expensive exhibits conjure up a world that never did, never will, exist, in which predator and prey gaze stupidly at one another across invisible but effective barriers, while plant life flourishes, water supplies are stable, and all of nature is benign.”

10. Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House, 1959
“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.”