Reub's journey

15 August 2016

First lines in August


How do you choose a book? Perhaps a friend recommends it, or you've read a review. Maybe it's a series that you're reading one by one, or an author you've liked before. I know somebody who refuses to read books in which bad/sad things happen, another who is the opposite and is suspicious of all books with happy endings.  


Me, I read all kinds of stuff but I am a fan of book covers and first lines. I like all of these covers.


 Here are the beginning lines, all of them inviting me into the book:


"This is me when I was 10 years old." (Persepolis, a well-known graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi)


"No one had seen her naked until her death." (The Birth of Venus, historical fiction by trash-writer-I-cannot-put-down Sarah Durant. The opening scene to this book, following that first line, is cinematic.)



"Come along, Bill; we'll have to get there, or we won't hear the first of it." (Bill Brown's Radio, a kids' book from 1929 by Wayne Whipple. An irresistible book from my father-in-law's attic.)



"Ancient mythologies have much to do with modern literature." (Bullfinch's Age of Fable, copyright 1898, the precursor to Edith Hamilton's Mythology. Is his first line still true? I think so.)


"You wouldn't think a boy of six would be excited to get an alarm clock for Christmas."  (This Is Not A Confession, a recent and excellent collection of memoir-essays and "speculative nonfiction" by David Olimpio.)


I have many beloved first lines, but every summer when it turns to August, there is one that stands out. Really, not just the first sentence but the whole first paragraph of Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbit:

The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning



The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless and hot.



It is curiously silent, too, with blank white dawns and glaring noons, and sunsets smeared with too  much color.



Often at night there is lightening, but it quivers all alone. There is no thunder, no relieving rain.



These are strange and breathless days, when people are led to do things they are sure to be sorry for after.



A beautiful, eerie book for young adults, Tuck Everlasting concerns the threat and curse of immortal life. A story for the ending weeks of summer, I first read it when my kids were 12 or 13, drawn in by it's beginning lines. Every year, right about now it is worth a visit.

24 comments:

  1. I search by author and usually it is John Grisham, Harlan Coben or Robert Parker. Downloading the audio books to listen while I work around the house. Most is easy listening of mindless drivel. LOL Your selections are inviting but require too much concentration for my weary mind. However there was a time....

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    1. I am definitely not above reading mindless drivel! I never think to try audio books though.

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  2. Love words and love those authors than can weave them so well! I usually read the summary to see if it is a subject or genre I feel like reading next (I read lots of different stuff but like to mix it up.) I read reviews both professional and those by readers.

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    1. This is what I usually do as well. But everything has to pass the test of a good first line.

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  3. I don't read that many books, but when I do if it doesn't grab me in the first 25 pages, I put it down.

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    1. Yeah you should be able to tell in 25 pages, right?

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    2. If it doesn't grab me in that amount of time, I start skipping pages, and if it still doesn't grab me, I get rid of it. My wife is more of the "read them until you're done" mindset.

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    3. I almost always see a book all the way through. There have been just a few that I put down, and they are books that almost everybody else likes. "All the President's Men" was the most recent failure of mine.

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  4. I commute into Portland on public transit, so I'm always reading something. I have a Kindle and go through about a book a week. I like the topic of this post!

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    1. I read about that much too. Just got back from a 2 week trip and finished 4 books. Plane trips make me want to read.

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  5. I read every day and go through a couple books a week. I like several genres: fiction, nonfiction, memoir. I read on a Kindle and always get a sample before committing. I can tell in the first few pages if the story is going to hook me.

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    1. Yes, I can usually tell early on, too.

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  6. I love books. I am reading all the time. I like your first lines.

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  7. a rather haunting and melancholy opening, but intriguing.

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    1. It is a haunting and memorable little book.

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  8. I buy many of my books used at St. Vinnies, and I choose them based upon how a quick a perusal appeals to me, when and where they were written (America of 150 to 90 years ago). In the case of recent books I choose them based upon what their subjects are. If I find an author I like, I order more books by him or her off Ebay or Amazon. If I can’t find a subject I want at St. Vinnies, I look it up on Ebay and Amazon and order books based upon their ratings. Currently, I’m absorbed by 20th century Mississippi history and housecats. My favorite novelist is Margaret Deland (1857-1945).

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    1. Margaret Deland? I hadn't heard of her, but just realized she was an early feminist writer. Pretty cool.

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    2. Deland was an activist in terms of personally enabling women to be self-supporting through job training, but she angered both suffragists and non-suffragists by not joining either camp.

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    3. A non-joiner. A person after my own heart. I should try one of her books.

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    4. P.S. You can get Deland’s first-edition books from ebay or AbeBooks cheaper than the xeroxed reprints. She was an enigma in that she took unwed mothers into her home and wrote sympathetically about them as well as understandingly about women who had affairs. She also set-up training programs for teaching women job skills, and otherwise did what she could—short of endorsing women’s suffrage or or joining any women’s rights movement—to better women’s station in American life. Yet, she bemoaned the increasing divorce rate, the flapper culture, the growing number of unwed mothers, and other changes that came at least partially from her own efforts. She expressed profound disapproval of the 20th century, some of it connected to the changing attitudes of women.

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  9. P.S. Take a look at the book covers on this blog: http://americanbookcovers.blogspot.com/

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    1. Wow! I love most of those covers. "A Charm of Birds" is gorgeous.

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    2. For short stories, any of her Dr. Lavender books. For novels, "The Iron Woman" or "The Kays" might be a good place to start. For nonfiction, either of her two autobiographies (they cover different parts of her life).

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