Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Year of Reading: Best First Lines of 2014

Every book has to start somewhere, right?

These were some of the greatest opening lines of 2014 books I came across this year.  Whether it was through startling imagery, clever grammatical construction or just plain oddness, these first sentences worked hard to get my attention.  They entranced, they intrigued, they hooked, they pulled me inside, they persuaded me to linger.   Whether or not the rest of the book held up to that first promise isn't the issue here (though, in most cases, these books do deliver the goods).  What matters is the first impression.  These lines were the unforgettable ones.

P.S.  If you want to read the rest of the words in these books, make sure you click the title link beneath each sentence and order your copy from R. J. Julia Booksellers.

We shot dogs.
     Redeployment by Phil Klay

It felt like a noble gesture at the time, and I was in the mood for an adventure.
     Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn

A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.
     Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

Once upon a time, in a far off land, I was kidnapped by a gang of fearless yet terrified young men with so much impossible hope beating inside their bodies it burned their very skin and strengthened their will right through their bones.
     An Untamed State by Roxane Gay

I'm pretty much fucked.
     The Martian by Andy Weir

Patterson Wells walks through the front door to find Chase working on a heap of crystal meth the size of his shrunken head.
     Cry Father by Benjamin Whitmer

The end came for Jane, and so for us, at the edge of spring, when the leaves of the north country were washed in that impossible shade of lemonade green.
     The Carry Home by Gary Ferguson

They never found his hands.
     The Forgers by Bradford Morrow

There was a town, and there was a librarian, and there was a fire.
     Shouldn't You Be in School? by Lemony Snicket

On the steps of the old mission house, the sergeant sat with the boy who called himself Robin, and watched a pigeon being swallowed by a pelican.
     Tigerman by Nick Harkaway

The king stood in a pool of blue light, unmoored.
     Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

On a very cold and lonely Friday last November, my father disappeared from the Dictionary.
     The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon

We found the woman floating facedown in an eddy where Crooked River made a slow bend north, just a stone skip away from the best swimming hole this side of anywhere.
     Crooked River by Valerie Geary

Exactly once upon a time in a small village in northern Iran, a child of the wrong color was born.
     The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour

Every night I stunned myself with gin.
     A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc

There was a time, not long ago, when it was illegal to kill people.
     Pills and Starships by Lydia Millett

A celestial light appeared to Barrett Meeks in the sky over Central Park, four days after Barrett had been mauled, once again, by love.
     The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham

By the time Joan of Arc proclaimed herself La Pucelle, the virgin sent by God to deliver France from its enemies, the English, she had been obeying the counsel of angels for five years.
     Joan of Arc: A Life Transfigured by Kathryn Harrison

They buried my wife in a shoe box in Central Park.
     Spoiled Brats by Simon Rich

The moose head was fixed to the wall, the microphone in its mouth was broken, but the camera in its left eye was working just fine, and as far as the moose head could see, this was just another Friday night in the Lumber Lodge!
     The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Leroy Kervin opened his eyes to see a woman in a blue-and-white-starred bikini holding a pneumatic drill.
     The Free by Willy Vlautin

I've always believed that one of the great reasons to be alive is that we don't know what's coming around the next corner.
     Good Grief! by Ellen Stimson

Sixty seconds before the baby shot its father, leaves fell lazily in Central Park.
    Brainquake by Samuel Fuller

Nobody ever warned me about mirrors, so for many years I was fond of them, and believed them to be trustworthy.
     Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Ira had been divorced six months and still couldn't get his wedding ring off.
     Bark by Lorrie Moore

        Let's go out
        and fart in the sunlight.
     A Momentary Glory: Last Poems by Harvey Shapiro

I crash through the screen door, arms flailing like two loose propellers, stumbling like a woman on fire: hair and clothes ablaze.
     The Other Side by Lacy M. Johnson

For a ghost story, the tale of Violet Saville Devohr was vague and underwhelming.
     The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai

You are a hairy painting.
     Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao

There is a bullet here on my desk.
     Talkativeness by Michael Earl Craig

Pretend I'm not already dead.
     A Life in Men by Gina Frangello

The funeral is supposed to be a quiet affair, for the deceased had no friends.
     The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

The rumors started before my daddy’s body got cold.
     I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy

This is the story of a murder, of a single soft-nosed bullet that traveled upward through a man’s rib cage, piercing his lung and lodging in his neck, after being fired by an unknown assailant 92 years ago on a cold Los Angeles night.
     Tinseltown by William Mann

The plane smelled of sweat and perfume.
     Friday Was the Bomb by Nathan Deuel

We feel them coming, the low vibration of their wheels, a dark convoy descending upon us, pitching north like a swarm lobbed from the fist of a spiteful deity.
     Cementville by Paulette Livers

Behold Tommy Arney: six-one, two-forty, biceps big as most men’s thighs and displayed to maximum effect in the black wifebeater that is his warm-weather fashion essential.
     Auto Biography by Earl Swift

The cop flicked his cigarette to the dirt and gravel road in front of the house, and touched back his hat over his hairline as the social worker drove up in a dusty Toyota Corolla.
     Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

Because I'd seen part of a documentary on gurus who slept on beds of nails, and because I'd tried to quit smoking before my wife came back home after leaving for nine months in order to birth our first child--though she would come back childless and say it was all a lie she made up in order to check into some kind of speech clinic up in Minnesota to lose her bilateral lisp--I had a dream of chairs and beds adorned entirely with ancient car cigarette lighters.
     Between Wrecks by George Singleton


  1. I've only heard of one these, Walter's, but it takes a lot of work to know of the rest. The life of a blogger can be like a living in a vacuum. You write, no one ever comes. I've done it since 2003 but I've migrated from it for this reason.

  2. A few of them are already on my wishlist. I think I have a fearsome book addiction! There is no way that I can read them all but thank you for listing all these deserving books!

  3. I love this idea and my favorite has to be “A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.” from Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty. I included it in my Best "Best of" Lists article, which was picked up by Cultured Vultures this morning: