Thursday, April 12, 2007


How do you choose a book to read?

By recommendation? An author you’re familiar with? A best seller list? A prize winner? The inside flap or back of the cover summary?

I do all of the above.

I also always read the first few sentences or paragraph of a book.

These first lines are usually referred to as “the hook” — meant to capture the reader’s interest.

They also give a sense of the author’s writing style.

A book doesn’t necessarily have to have a catchy “hook” for me to continue reading, but if it does, by golly, I’m “caught.”

Here are a few examples of opening lines that drew me in — and I wasn’t disappointed.

Great “Hooks”

I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster.

The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls

I have never looked into my sister’s eyes. I have never bathed alone. I have never stood in the grass at night and raised my arms to a beguiling moon. I’ve never used an airplane bathroom. Or worn a hat. Or been kissed like that.

The Girls – Lori Lansens

Life changes fast.
Life changes in an instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.

The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion

Mira was hiding in the ladies’ room. She called it that, even though someone had scratched out the ladies’ in the sign on the door and written women’s underneath. She called it that out of thirty-eight years of habit, and until she saw the cross-out on the door, had never thought about it.

The Women’s Room – Marilyn French

It’s morning. For now, night is over. It’s time for the bad news. I think of the bad news as a huge bird, with the wings of a crow and the face of my Grade Four schoolteacher, sparse bun, rancid teeth, wrinkly frown…

Moral Disorder — Margaret Atwood

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice — not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

A Prayer for Owen Meany — John Irving


Mamma said...

A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite books of all time.

I can't wait to read The Glass Castle.

I get my inspiration from many places like you. I love books!!!

oreneta said...

"The last camel died at noon."

Ken Follett. I don't know which book.

I have to say that I am not much of a Follet fan...I've run across most of the books and read them and...meh....

but that was the first opening line that I can remeber really "hooking" me into a book.

Anonymous said...

I love these...*sigh*...oh but if I could write like that.

I mostly go for the jacket summary and first couple of pages. I might even give a book a chance for the first chapter or two but after that if it bugs me more than tempts me to read on then I won't do it.

Anonymous said...

Actually the only book that turned around after I almost put it down was Dave Eggers "Heartbreaking Work of *something something* Genius" about ten years ago. I don't remember what it was but I hated the beginning and somehow he turned it around and I couldn't put it down.

Beth said...

The Glass Castle is a true story - a memoir. A fabulous book. (Reads like fiction..)
Re: Owen Meany - didn't you love how every time Owen spoke his words were capitalized?

Great hook. Strange and draws you in. Why did the camel die and then what happened???

I would kill (okay, maybe not kill) to write like these authors.
I just gave up on book after three chapters. At my age, that's long enough. (So many little time...)

Beth said...

I want to read A Prayer For Owen Meany......

alot of times, I go on reviews from others, or maybe i read about a book in a magazine or something....alot of time, I just browse the rows of books at the library and pick something that sounds good!

Beth said...

Do try A Prayer for Owen Meany - you'll love it. It's funny and makes you think. Good combo.

When you mentioned libraries, it reminded me that I forgot to say that book titles can also "hook" you.

patricia said...

Great hooks, all of them. I love amazing first lines in a book! Here's a couple I've raved about in the past:

Fifth Business by Robertson Davies:
"My lifelong involvement with Mrs. Dempster began at 5:58 o'clock p.m. on 27 December 1908, at which time I was ten years and seven months old."

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn:
"When your mama was the geek, my dreamlets," Papa would say, "she made the nipping off of noggins such a crystal mystery that the hens themselves yearned toward her, waltzing around her, hypnotized with longing."

Oh, and I've read every book you've mentioned, except for French and Didion. Didion is definitely on my 'must read' list, and you've piqued my curiosity with French...

Beth said...

I forgot about the Davies one but loved that series.
And you've piqued my interest as to Geek Love.
French's book is an oldie - but one of my favourites.

Ain't words grand?

(I wish I'd chosen some lines from one of Kurt Vonnegut's books - I think I have them all. I'll miss him.)

patricia said...

It was funny – just this weekend Guy, his sister and I were talking about how much we loved Vonnegut. And the week before, Guy and I watched the move 'Slaughterhouse 5'. Guy and I have a little personal joke between the two of us with that movie – whenever I feel fat, or I've overdone it with something fattening, I'll squeal to Guy: "I'll lost the weight, Billy!"

'Geek Love' is definitely not everyone's cup of tea, due to the creepy circus freak factor in the story. But if you can get beyond that, it's really just about family and love, and it is just so damn well written.

And yeah, words are wonderful.

Beth said...

In this family, we use the expression, "And so it goes..." from Slaughterhouse Five.

What a tremendous influence the man had.

Memphis Steve said...

Marilyn French? She's a .... well, she's not a nice person. That's all I'm saying. Unless it's a different Marilyn French.

JR's Thumbprints said...

I choose most books on name recognition from the small literary journals in the United States, such as Glimmer Train Magazine. I'm not into the big box stores offering Harry Potter books. Give me the small independent chains with a rack of magazine spines facing the consumer.

John said...

A hook?

Once Upon A Time....

I challenge you to beat that!!

And I resist the urge to reveal the language used so far...

Beth said...

memphis steve:
Your Marilyn French must be a very different one from mine...
I don't think I want to know about yours.

jrs thumbprints:
Hey, my work has been rejected by Glimmer Train! (Not such a great claim to fame.) It's a wonderful literary journal.
Happy to report the same work was accepted elsewhere.

Okay, you picked the all time greatest "hook."
(What do you mean as to "the language used so far?" Or should I ask?)

cipriano said...

Great topic.
One of my favorite opening lines is "The boy with fair hair lowered himself down the last few feet of rock and began to pick his way towards the lagoon."
[Lord of the Flies, William Golding].
But the Didion beginning, that grabbed me too.... drew me in, to the terrible [magical] Year.
I have had Owen Meany sitting on my shelf for about 412 [rather unmagical] years.... have never read the thing.
Should I?

cipriano said...

Dear Ornetta:
The book is "The Key To Rebecca" and it is "The last camel collapsed at noon."
If you find Follett sort of.... uneventful, I encourage you to read his The Pillars of the Earth.
There is a soon-to-be-released [and long awaited for] sequel.
Follett rocks.

Dorky Dad said...

I pick my books solely on their cover. I see nothing wrong with that.

Beth said...

Yes, do read A Prayer for Owen Meany. You won't regret it. At the very least, give it one more try - a few chapters or so.
The Lord of the Flies "hook" - forgot that one. It too is great.

And thus, you can judge a book by it's cover...
And, hey, it does work. Great art work on some covers.

Mom of Three said...

I love the Glass Castle, and am right now reading The Girls, but I also get future ideas from opinions I respect, meaning I'll be adding some of these gems to my list asap.

I also liked "The Mermaids Singing."

Mom of Three said...

"It was a dark and stormy night."


Beth said...

I forgot that classic! - "...a dark and stormy night..."

I also loved The Mermaids Singing.

(I think reading keeps me sane. What do non-readers do?)

Princess Pointful said...

My books are all already packed up... so I can't search for a good first line.

The first one you presented intrigued me, though. And I adore Margaret Atwood and John Irving.

Beth said...

princess pointful:

Do try The Glass Castle - I know you are so busy now, but it's a great read. So, when you get the time...