20 of the Best Opening Lines from Novels

opening lines

The opening line of a book can often be the most important. The first line is the author’s way of introducing oneself to the reader and can often be the difference between being being put back on the shelf or taken home to read. There are many famous opening lines to many excellent books, here are a few of the best.

  1. “Call me Ishmael.” – Moby Dick, Herman Melville (1851)
  2. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” 1984, George Orwell, (1949)
  3. “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.” – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens (1859)
  4. “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.” The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger (1951)
  5. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.” – David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (1850)
  6. “All this happened, more or less.” – Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut, (1969)
  7. “It was a pleasure to burn.” – Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury, (1953)
  8. “Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.” – Back When We Were Grownups, Anne Tyler (2001)
  9. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” – The Go-Between, L. P. Hartley (1953)
  10. “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.” – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson (1971)
  11. “It was love at first sight.” Catch 22, Joseph Heller (1961)
  12. “I am a sick man . . . I am a spiteful man. – Notes From the Underground, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, (1864)
  13. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.” – The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  14. “To Sherlock Holmes, she is always the woman.” – A scandel in Bohemia, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1891)
  15. “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.” – One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez (1967)
  16. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” – Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)
  17. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” – Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy (1877)
  18. “‘What’s it going to be then, eh?'” – A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess (1962)
  19. “Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.” – 2001: A Space odyssey, Arthur C. Clarke (1968)
  20. “Progris riport 1 marten 3.” – Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes (1966)
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