A typewriter typed the words "first and foremost..." on a blank white page and a phone features the first chapter of a book with the first line highlighted: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times".

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12 of the best opening lines in books


Jul 31, 2023

“This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.”

William Goldman wrote this first line for his book, The Princess Bride—a sentence that sounds more like a riddle as he later explains how such a thing is possible in his timeless fantasy classic.

A great first line can be nearly as important as everything that comes after. Like a captivating cover, it invites the reader in, stoking their curiosity and setting the tone for the rest of the story. First lines are often shocking, or they might be funny or mysterious or sad. Some are so disorientating that you have to read on to figure out what’s happening—or even who’s talking. Whatever the angle, they’re worth remembering.

To celebrate books that start with a bang, we’ve compiled some of literature’s most famous opening lines. If you haven’t read any of these yet, check out their beginnings below and get ready to be pulled in. To read the rest of the story, borrow them on the Libby app from your library.

The Book Thief"Here is a small fact: You are going to die."

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

When Death has a story to tell, you listen.

Slaughterhouse-Five“All this happened, more or less."

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

You can’t help but wonder...what happened?

1984“It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

1984 by George Orwell

Readers are immediately ripped from the real world to the totalitarian state of Oceania, where Big Brother is watching.

Ffahrenheit 451“It was a pleasure to burn.”

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A darkly appropriate beginning to this classic that’s set in a bleak, dystopian future where the printed book is the most illegal of commodities.

Feed“We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”

Feed by M.T. Anderson

Readers can quickly guess they’re in the shoes of a teenager, and they soon realize it’s a not-so-brave new world.

The Lovely Bones“My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973.”

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected.

Their Eyes Were Watching God“Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.”

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

A powerful opening to one of the most important and enduring books of the 20th century.

Pachinko“History has failed us, but no matter.”

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Lee’s complex and passionate characters survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

I Capture the Castle“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

The first line of many from the narrator who candidly chronicles the great changes that take place and her own first descent into love in her journal.

Paradise“They shoot the white girl first.”

Paradise by Toni Morrison

A horrifying start that leaves readers wondering: Who’s next?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

This sentence began an incredible adventure, a 7-part series and a classic of our time.

*Title availability may vary by library and region.

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About the Author

Annie Suhy has been working in the book industry since 2006. When she’s not working, practicing yoga, or petting cats, she’s doing paint-by-numbers and buying more plants. An avid poetry fan, her favorite collection is "The Splinter Factory" by Jeffrey McDaniel.


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