First lines of 2010

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.

I’m shivering, and I can’t tell if it’s because something strange is going on or because of the dream I had or just because I’m in the kitchen, away from the warmth of the woodstove.

The week before I left my family and Florida and the rest of my minor life to go to boarding school in Alabama, my mother insisted on throwing me a going-away party.

I heard the mailman approach my office door, half an hour earlier than usual.

Not for the first time, an argument had broken out over breakfast at number four Privet Drive.

The hospital room looked as ill as the patient it housed.

The summer we took in a boarder my mother started wearing headscarves.

The morning after noted child prodigy Colin Singleton graduated from high school and got dumped for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, he took a bath.

It was Wednesday.

What fascinates me about life is that, now and then, the past rises up and declares itself.

The cold snap of the previous week was over; the sun was shining brightly as Clary hurried across Luke’s dusty front yard, the hood of her jacket up to keep her hair from blowing across her face.

Friar John-Francis walked to the podium and stood front and center before the large expectant congregation.

Old Henry Lee stood transfixed by all the commotion at the Panama Hotel.

So this is supposed to be about the how, and when, and why, and what of reading – about the way that, when reading is going well, one book leads to another and to another, a paper trail of theme and meaning; and how, when it’s going badly, when books don’t stick or take, when your mood and the mood of the book are fighting like cats, you’d rather do anything but attempt the next paragraph, or reread the last one for the tenth time.

Just over half a century ago, in “A Gentle Dirge for the Familiar Essay,” a dispirited writer mourned the imminent death of a genre that was “setting to the horizon, along with its whole constellation: formal manners, apt quotation, Greek and Latin, clear speech, conversation, the gentleman’s library, the gentleman’s income, the gentleman.”

I grew up riding a rocket.

I barrel through the double doors and across the lobby of the State Department, bypassing the metal detector and waving my plastic identification badge at the guard, who nods in recognition.


In the time it takes to pluck a hen, I have ruined myself.

“Run along, make your calls, and enjoy His Lordship’s booley,” said Mrs. Maureen Kinkaid, “Kinky” to her friends, as she knelt in the hall and sponged Ribena black-currant cordial from a small boy’s tweed overcoat.

I could feel everyone looking at me, but I was used to it.

Dear Miss Marina how are you?

As the ship’s bell clanged through the school’s hallway for the third time, Ben ran his tongue back and forth across the porcelain caps that covered his front teeth, a nervous habit.

The road to Commonwealth was long and forbidding, stretching for miles beyond Timber Falls and leading deep into the evergreen woods, where the trees grew taller still as if trying to reach the sun that teased them with the paucity of its rays.

Entertainment has a bad name.

The city teetered in a dream state.

The mice struggle to live safely and prosper among all of the world’s harsh conditions and predators.

The summer storms are the wildest.

It was hot and dusty.

Around midnight, her eyes at last took shape.

The Austrian horses glinted in the moonlight, their riders standing tall in the saddle, swords raised.

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World.

When Hardy Collins woke up, Big Red was gone.

To begin with the old rigmarole of childhood.

Travel broadens, they say.

I had been right to want to drive to the Midwest, taking only the back roads.

When the dust settled, Toni V took his goggles off for a moment and rubbed his eyes.

Once I saw a vixen and a dog fox dancing.

The noise of a helicopter at night fills the whole world.

“If I was going to kill the Prophet,” I say, not even keeping my voice low, “I’d do it in Africa.”

On a cold October morning my ten-year-old daughter, Julia, sat at our kitchen table and contemplated the Earth’s layers.

My life – my real life – started when a man walked into it, a handsome stranger in a perfectly cut suit, and, yes, I know how that sounds.

Every smiley moon, without fail, Claire dreamed of her childhood.

“Sir?” she repeats. “How soon do you want it to get there?”

Sam Temple was on his board.

The pirate’s head had disappeared.

The flight from Newark to Hartford took no more than fifty-eight minutes, but she still managed to get her heart broken three times.

I like liking things.

There. That was short, to the point, and easy to type.

Before she became the Girl from Nowhere – the One Who Walked In, the First and Last and Only, who lived a thousand years – she was just a little girl in Iowa, named Amy.

Dear Elizabeth, How to begin this?

So Mom got the postcard today.

Father Brian Flynn, the curate at St. Augustine’s, Rossmore, hated the Feast Day of St. Ann with a passion that was unusual for a Catholic priest.

What I remember now is the bunch of them running: from the tins, which were their houses.

Emmy awoke to the song of the wind in the bottle tree, to the black night and the winter chill, and knew Ben was gone from her the way the moon knows the ocean’s tides.

On a beautiful June morning in 1983, I was startled from a deep sleep by a loud banging on my bedroom door.

I stared at my attorney as he began his defense that I did not share the blame in the murder of my son.

When the first rumble came, no one in the visa office, down in the basement of the Indian consulate, thought anything of it.

First: I got fired. For emailing a website with hundreds of pictures of breasts to every single person in our company. Even the CEO and chairman of the board. Even the summer interns.

The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going.

The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.

For me, the story begins with Murdoch McIlvane.

Eragon stared at the dark tower of stone wherein hid the monsters who had murdered his uncle, Garrow.

A common bat on the other side of the world elects to sink its rabid fangs, and one’s cozy existence is finished.

These hands are ninety-three years old.

This is my life: The alarm goes off at five-thirty with the murmuring of a public-radio announcer, telling me that there has been a coup in Chad, a tornado in Texas.

The dreams began when we left Bombay.

I’m seeing you again after twenty-seven years, Mother, and wondering whether in all that time you have understood how much damage you did to your children.

I had always imagined that my life story, if and when I wrote it, would have a great first line: something lyric like Nabokov’s “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins”; or if I could not do lyric, then something sweeping like Tolstoy’s “All happy families are alike, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

During January of 2007, my mother and I lived in a small rental apartment in Paris in order to celebrate my mother’s turning fifty (and my turning twenty-two).

Imagine all the roads a woman and a man walk until they reach the road they’ll walk together.

My name is Kathy H.

As homecomings go, it was not auspicious.

Anax moved down the long corridor.

Some nights, if I’m sleeping on my own, I still dream about Whitethorn House.

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.

I wake up barefoot, standing on cold slate tiles.

Kate had been traveling the road for hours, the rain her sole companion.

In the years when her middle name was Trouble, Zee had a habit of stealing boats.

It’s tough, living in the shadow of a dead girl.

One may as well begin with Jerome’s e-mails to his father.

There comes a time in every girl’s life when she realizes her father isn’t perfect.

She sprang from the womb and waved to the crowd.

The newspaper headline glared at me from under a little metal vending machine: SEATTLE UNDER SIEGE – DEATH TOLL RISES AGAIN.

The story goes that even after the Return they tried to keep the roller coasters going.

The only thing more dangerous than an idea is a belief.

For me, the story begins with Murdoch McIlvane.

Eragon stared at the dark tower of stone wherein hid the monsters who had murdered his uncle, Garrow.

What, you weren’t planning on packing Beowulf with your flip-flops and sunscreen?

Everyone has a secret life.

Momma left her red satin shoes in the middle of the road.

Two clever London gentlemen. Both wore city suits, both sat in quiet rooms, both thought about luncheon.

Cat puts up his nose to sniff the breath of wind barely filling the sail, and opens his small pink mouth to speak.

In the year 1896, my great-uncle, one of the first Catholic priests of aboriginal blood, put the call out to his parishioners that they should gather at St. Joseph’s wearing scapulars and holding missals.

“Toooothy cow!” bellowed Podo as he whacked a stick against the nearest glipwood tree.

‘I suppose the important thing is to make some sort of difference,’ she said.

It was ironic.

There were only two kinds of people in our town.

Until the drowned girl came to Laurel’s bedroom, ghosts had never walked in Victorianna.

Mae Mobley was born on an early Sunday morning in August, 1960.

The flower girl had lost her basket of rose petals and could not bear to have the photograph taken without it.

The trouble with Phineas Michael Button began the moment she was born.

She was glad it was the evening mailboat she was taking, for she did not think she could have faced a morning departure.

Whenever my father went out of town, he had the mail stopped.

When Jones Cooper was younger, he didn’t believe in mistakes.

There are some stories no one wants to hear.

“Iso, time for-” Eliza Benedict paused at the foot of the stairs.

As garage sales go, this was a disaster from the start.

It happened every year, was almost a ritual.

She lay on her back fastened by leather straps to a narrow bed with a steel frame.

Dr. Jonasson was woken by a nurse five minutes before the helicopter was expected to land.

Now that I’ve found the way to fly, which direction should I go into the night?

I awake in a whispering ambulance.

Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.

Miss Alexia Tarabotti was not enjoying her evening.

My name is Elizabeth but no one’s ever called me that.

I don’t remember any of the true, important parts, but there’s this dream I have.

The demon exploded in a shower of ichor and guts.

Dear Franklin, I’m unsure why one trifling incident this afternoon has moved me to write to you.

Hula Hoop (March 1958-June 1959) – The prototype for all merchandising fads and one whose phenomenal success has never been repeated.

I was born with a talent.

He ran his tongue over his swollen gums and tasted blood.

When Josey woke up and saw the feathery frost on her windowpane, she smiled.

I was raised in a gaunt house with a garden; my earliest recollections are of floating lights in the apple trees.

A light snow falls, slowly coating the deep-red rooftops of Prague.

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.

She spoke to him before the world fell apart.

It was a golden afternoon in late June, a perfect day for cricket.

A vibration rippled through my body.

Jenny woke to thunder.

So things were ticking along quite nicely.

I found him in the garage on a Sunday afternoon.

The door starts shaking.

Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood.

“Mom, you’ve been fighting again.”

Please, Teagan Wylltson’s fingers curled in American Sign Language as she spoke.

In the ordinary winter of 1920, the philosopher Martin Heidegger saw his glasses and fell out of the familiar world.

I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

I had always been a disobedient girl.

They say that just before you die your whole life flashes before your eyes, but that’s not how it happened for me.

Joseph lay on his face in the ice-filmed mud.

The sun was sinking low over the waste of no-man’s-land when Barshey Gee staggered up the trench, his arms flying, his boots clattering on the duckboards.

On Labor Day my mother and brother piled the station wagon with all our things.

“They are what?”

The rain poured from the heavens as we fled across the mud-flats, that scene of desolation; it soaked through our clothes and bit at the skin with its chill.

Daniel stared out at the bay.

“I see England, I see France, I see the first lady’s underpants.”

Ian watched Mattie sleep, her body curved as if still pressed against his, her arms resting on a pillow that he had carefully positioned alongside her torso.

It was shortly after three in the afternoon.

This was going to be a solo show.

“How much longer, Mama, must we tolerate this gross humiliation?”

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11 Responses to First lines of 2010

  1. It’s fun reading through the first sentences of what you read this year, Carrie. Some of those are quite attention grabbing!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – it was fun re-reading through this post and remembering the books. 🙂

  2. Vasilly
    Twitter: Vasilly

    Oh My God! Those are some incredible first sentences. Many of these books are going on my TBR list! Happy New Year!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Vasilly- some authors really have a knack for writing a first sentence, don’t they?

  3. I love this, Carrie! These are some great first lines.

    Thanks so much for your feedback on the top 10 books, and happy New Year to you as well!

  4. Kathleen says:

    Wow, this was so cool to try and guess some of these!

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Kathleen – I am always amazed at how different authors approach first lines – for some, it’s simply a place to start, for others, it is very distinctive.

  5. Rebecca Rasmussen

    This is fantastic! Wow! Perfect for me b/c I do a first line writing activity in my creative writing classes 🙂

  6. CarrieK
    Twitter: booksandmovies

    You’re welcome, Mary Ann.