Via The Happy Booker, I just discovered (American Book Review) LitLine's 100 Best First Lines from Novels. I was surprised at many of the opening lines that made the list. For instance, Herman Melville's "Call me Ishmael" (Moby Dick) isn't particularly compelling. Neither is Albert Camus' "Mother died today" (The Stranger), Sinclair Lewis' "Elmer Gantry was drunk" (Elmer Gantry), Joseph Heller's "It was love at first sight" (Catch-22), and a number of others. It would have been better to call this a list of the most memorable rather than the best first lines. Many of the openers listed are remembered only because the books they kick off are so well known.
A great first line should grab the reader and yank her into the story. My friend Victoria Bylin began her historical romance Abbie's Outlaw this way: "When the Reverend John Leaf saw Abigail Windsor standing at the top of the train steps, dressed in black and shielding her eyes from the noonday sun, he knew that all hell was about to break loose." Hmm. That's rather an odd thing for a minister to be thinking. Are you curious about the woman in black and about his reaction to her? I was, so I kept reading.
What are some of the best first lines you've read?