Tuesday, January 1, 2013

My Year of Reading: Best First Lines of 2012

Sometimes, first sentences are my favorite part of books.  I love opening a new arrival and turning directly to the first page to skim those beginning words, the first notes to the prelude of the symphony to come.  Sometimes, that's as far as I get.  But, when those sentences are at their best, sometimes I don't stop.

In an earlier blog post, here's how I described the importance of opening lines:
Every word serves a purpose, every sentence propels the reader to the next, and the next, and the next. And it all begins with the first words on the first page. Here, opening sentences set the stage as they bring us inside. If novels are split-level, five-bedroom homes in which we lose ourselves down hallways and up staircases, then those first sentences are the doorknobs. Turn, push, enter.
Here are my favorite first sentences from books published in 2012, starting with my absolute favorite line of the year, then randomly presented to you after that.  In all but a few instances, I've limited myself to just the first sentence.

The war tried to kill us in the spring.
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

The day I cut my hair and completely fuck up the Christmas Card, I am merely bored, not a defiant brat like Babs tells all her friends.
The Chocolate Money by Ashley Prentice Norton

The bride did not wear white. But the terrorist did.
Love Bomb by Lisa Zeidner

It was snowing the morning I found the dead boy.
The Vanishing Act by Mette Jakobsen

At the moment, the Copeland family is a bit at odds.
We Only Know So Much by Elizabeth Crane

They heard the caterwaul of sirens, and saw the dust rising underneath the ambulance wheels at the far end of the driveway, and soon the darkening garden was a wash of flashing blue lights.
The Bellwether Revivals by Benjamin Wood

A crying of tires erupted from the street.
The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin

The thing is, all memory is fiction.
Heading Out to Wonderful by Robert Goolrick

The most dangerous thing I ever did was tell a grown man my real name.
Caring is Creepy by David Zimmerman

But maybe Mom's not the place to start, though she's where I began (in her I took shape, grew limbs, prepared to breathe oxygen, albeit with a slight asthmatic wheeze that has not been helped by cigarettes), and where all this coming-of-age stuff inevitably buds then barely blooms, like the pale azaleas Mrs. Todd put on her porch every spring but never watered, letting the rain try to raise them up, make them stand and receive sunlight, just as the constant dull glow of the television tried with me, equally failed.
Flatscreen by Adam Wilson

She stood by the window and said, Those trees are turning that beautiful colour again.
This Isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You by Jon McGregor

That spring—the spring of 1950—had been particularly wet.
Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron

Time rained down on Clare.
An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi

This book is totally true, except for the parts that aren't.
Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Mother Catherine knew the devil.
Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop

I sat there in the car with the gravel dust blowing across the parking lot and saw the place for what it was, not what it was right at that moment in the hot sunlight, but for what it had been maybe twelve or fifteen years before: a real general store with folks gathered around the lunch counter, a line of people at the soda fountain, little children ordering ice cream of just about every flavor you could think of, hard candy by the quarter pound, moon pies and crackerjack and other things I hadn't thought about tasting in years.
A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

So Carmen was married, just.
Carry the One by Carol Anshaw

When the slip of saw through trunk was buttery, liquid, and verging on gentle, Geneva was moved to tears. Her body felt as though it were cutting through the tree: the rings, the history of droughts and hailstorms, the sap that could have been her own blood, dripping, weeping at her feet. It felt like a betrayal, this taking of saw to tree. But Clint was out of work again. They needed money.
Echolocation by Myfanwy Collins

Here is the first thing you need to know about me: I'm a barefoot girl from red-dirt Oklahoma, and all the marble floors in the world will never change that.
In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes

For it came to pass that the world had grown wicked, and men had taken war into their hearts, and committed great defilements upon every living thing, so that the world was as a dream of death.
The Twelve by Justin Cronin

The final weekend of their marriage, hounded by insolvency, indecision, and, stupidly, half secretly, in the neverdistant past ruled by memory, infidelity, Art and Marion Fowler fled the country.
The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

The afternoon my parents died, I was out shoplifting with Irene Klauson.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

They brought the big man in on a winter night when the moon looked as hazy as the heart of an ice cube.
The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

A teenage boy coming in from a morning of lighting fires along far-flung creeks was the one to find the body.
Goliath by Susan Woodring

Isabel often thinks of Amsterdam, though she has never been there, and probably will never go.
Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

The one clear thing I can say about Wednesday, the worst and most amazing day of my life, is this: it started out beautifully.
I Am an Executioner: Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran

So the important thing to know from the start is that she was miserable.
Signs and Wonders by Alix Ohlin

Do you want my recipe for disaster?
May We Be Forgiven by A.M. Homes

I'm not a bad guy.
This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.
Canada by Richard Ford

I'll leave you with what is undoubtedly the longest first sentence published this year.  Narcoplis, Jeet Thayil's debut about Bombay's underbelly opens with a single sentence that unrolls like a bolt of cloth bouncing down a staircase across seven pages. I don't have the space to give you the entire mesmerizing prologue called "Something For the Mouth," but here is just a small narcotic taste of the opening lines:

Bombay, which obliterated its own history by changing its name and surgically altering its face, is the hero or heroin of this story, and since I’m the one who’s telling it and you don’t know who I am, let me say that we’ll get to the who of it but not right now, because now there’s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I’ll have to stop, these are nighttime tales that vanish in sunlight, like vampire dust— wait now, light me up so we do this right, yes, hold me steady to the lamp, hold it, hold, good, a slow pull to start with, to draw the smoke low into the lungs, yes, oh my, and another for the nostrils, and a little something sweet for the mouth, and now we can begin at the beginning with the first time at Rashid’s when I stitched the blue smoke from pipe to blood to eye to I and out into the blue world— and now we’re getting to the who of it and I can tell you that I, the I you’re imagining at this moment, a thinking someone who’s writing these words, who’s arranging time in a logical chronological sequence, someone with an overall plan, an engineer-god in the machine, well, that isn’t the I who’s telling this story, that’s the I who’s being told, thinking of my first pipe at Rashid’s, trawling my head for images, a face, a bit of music, or the sound of someone’s voice, trying to remember what it was like, the past, recall it as I would the landscape and light of a foreign country, because that’s what it is, not fiction or dead history but a place you lived in once and cannot return to, which is why I’m trying to remember how it was that I got into trouble in New York and they sent me back to Bombay to get straight, how I found Rashid’s, and how, one afternoon, I took a taxi through roads mined with garbage, with human and animal debris, and the poor, everywhere the poor and deranged stumbled in their rags or stood and stared, and I saw nothing out of the ordinary in their bare feet and air of abandonment, I smoked a pipe and I was sick all day,

1 comment:

  1. This is the best "Best Of" list of 2012. You sold me a bunch of books the whole way down. Masterful bloggery. Chapeau.