I will buy a book for the cover alone.

Borrowed from Deviant Art
Or the first sentence.

"What can you give me?  Can you give me a back alley, a smoke-filled temple where white-hooded mourners burn offerings and wail for the dead?  The single chime of a high-pitched temple bell?  The knocking of a wooden fish?"

These are the first few lines of White Ghost Girls, by Alice Greenway.  I picked it up in a used bookstore, intrigued by the vivid hues of green and blue on the cover, and the two young girls using driftwood to draw a circle in the sand.  You know how important graduates of graphic design college are when the cover makes enough of an impact to make someone pick up the book.

I propped the book open, and the first sentence had me hooked.  What can you give me?

It is the story of two American sisters who spend their childhood in Hong Kong during Mao's Cultural Revolution.  Against a backdrop of uncertainty and danger, the girls learn about identity, womanhood, and a bond that only exists between sisters . . .  "Because if you can't, it's not enough.  And if you can, I might leave anyhow.  I'll head for cover.  Disappear in jungles of triple canopy."

I bought a second book simply for the title.  The Land of Women.  I picked it up for fifty cents at a book fair last year, thinking it was the novel behind the movie.  It wasn't.  Regina McBride tells the  captivating story of Fiona, a girl of Irish descent who spends her adult years in New Mexico, desperately trying to connect her heritage with the future she hopes to make for herself.

Again, I opened the book to find a stunning first sentence: "When she closes her eyes, Fiona recalls the pale smells of her mother's skin and hair; a smell like new muslin washed in salt water and left to dry in the wind."

First sentences were also how I became acquainted with the writing style of Elizabeth Berg.  They are an open invitation:

"You know before you know, of course.  You are bending over the dryer, pulling out the still-warm sheets, and the knowledge walks up your backbone."  (Open House.)

Or how about this one from What We Keep: "Outside the airplane window the clouds are thick and rippled, unbroken as acres of land." 

Gail Caldwell's A Strong West Wind has one of my favorite opening lines: "How do we become who we are?  The question belongs not just to genes or geography or the idea of destiny, but to the entire symphony of culture and its magisterial march."

Truth be told, it is a fascination with words that makes me buy unfamiliar paperbacks.

I am drawn towards the way the words sound when read aloud more than the premise of the book itself.  Of course, my favorites incorporate distinct prose along with a relatable plot-line, credible characters who make me love them, and a dry sense of humor.  Unfortunately, these books are few and far between.

Usually my randomly selected paperbacks don't make the top five.  But I will keep them for the sentences I have highlighted, those lyrical phrases which relate truth about life in a way I would not have otherwise considered.

I've been told that it is important to keep a journal, as it is one of the few ways we are able to recognize who we actually are.  It is an honest portrait of ourselves.  In a similar fashion, it is important to read books.

Often as not, we will find ourselves in the pages.


  1. can i barrow some of these books???

  2. Oh, I love it when the first line is good. When it's random, but normal. Like a thought I would think.

  3. This was great! I also am captivated by specific passages I find in my reading. J.D. Salinger's "Franney and Zooey" is great for this:

    "I say that my current offering isn't a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story at all. I say it's a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated."

  4. Hi! I'm visiting (& following) from The Book Lovers Blog Hop. I love the opening sentence of The Land of Women. I haven't read any of the books you mentioned. Now I have some new ones to look for. :)

    Linda @ Linda's Lunacy

  5. New reader here, from over at Literary Legs :) I love the passages you quoted - how beautiful! I adore finding passages like that; I write them down and then find them on little scraps of paper all over the place. I've actually thought it would be fun to make a scrapbook using them! :) Anyway, new follower, and can't wait to read more!

  6. I totally agree about reading the first passages. Sometimes they can pull my curiosity strings.

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  8. I love opening a book and discovering what is in store for my on the first page. I am always disappointed if a novel doesn't start with a powerful, attention grabbing line. I think my all time favourite is, 'To sleep is to die,' from David Gemmell's Troy.
    One of the central characters is the sole survivor of a shipwreck, and is clinging to a splintered mast, amongst storm-whipped waves. He struggling to hold on, despite his exhaustion, knowing that if he rests, even for a moment, he will drown. It's powerful stuff.
    So yes, I definitely share your love of first line reading :)


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