The Best First Lines of All Time

Ah, first lines. They grab us, they intrigue us, they carry the promise of an entire book.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. . . .”

“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”

“A screaming comes across the sky.”

We judge a book by its first line. (But maybe we shouldn’t.)

Get recommendations for the greatest books around straight to your inbox every week.

We all have our favorites. We want to hear yours. Share your favorite in a comment! We’ll collect the most popular for our countdown of the best first lines of all time.

About Kira Walton

Kira Walton

KIRA WALTON has been stalking books all her life as a college English teacher, bookseller, book club consultant, author, and editor.

  • Kate_at_RIF

    “We go about our daily lives understanding almost nothing about the world.” — A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking

  • Jilly Dean

    Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again…..Rebecca by Daphne De Maurier

  • pat

    “Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature.”

    • Kate_at_RIF

      Where is that opening line from? It’s terrific!

    • I had to look it up! It’s Anita Brookner, A Start In Life

  • Broadbelle

    My mother died today; or was it yesterday? I can’t be sure.
    Camus. The Stranger

  • Julie B

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” Jane Austen, P&P

  • AubLibDir

    It was a dark and stormy night…….. (Sorry, I just couldn’t resist.)

  • Danielle

    The man in black fed across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

    • Danielle

      I type-od!This should read: The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.

  • Kristin

    “Papa, where are you going with that ax?” E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

  • Rosa

    People are afraid to merge on the freeways in Los Angeles (Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero)

  • shabana ansari

    In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.

  • Lynn

    Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

  • Dawn

    There are some men who enter a woman’s life and screw it up forever. Janet Evanovich, One for the Money

  • goldensanti

    — I —

    Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

    –_Introibo ad altare Dei_.
    —– Ulysses, by James Joyce

  • goldensanti

    “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”
    —The Great Gatsby

    • goldensanti

      “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”
      —The Great Gatsby

  • AmyJ

    ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink’ (I Capture the Castle)

  • Betty-Anne

    “The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.” The Gunslinger – Stephen King.

[email_signup id="4" download="" success="Success! Click below to get your bookmarks."]
[email_signup id="4"]