Thursday, December 22, 2016

My Year of Reading: Best First Lines of 2016

In 2016, I read somewhere north of 100 books (the final tally is still to come). In those same twelve months, I bought, received in the mail, downloaded onto my Kindle, or was gifted nearly eight times that number of books. They passed through my hands like a slurry caught in never-ending water. With so many new books rushing past my eyes, it takes something bold and unique to catch my attention. Sure, I’m attracted to plot, character and sometimes by the reputation of the author, but it’s the language which really matters to me. A book must work overtime with all its muscle to make me add it to the ever-towering To-Be-Read stack (aka Mt. NeveRest). That’s where the first sentence comes in. The best opening lines are snakes rearing up from the grass, a fire-blaze of sunset, a jack-in-the-box clapping its hands, the tastiest forkful of the best wedding cake ever baked. Surprise me, puzzle me, scare me, warm me with light. Make it impossible for me to resist the second, third and fourth sentences. Open the door so I can step into the book.

Here are my favorite first sentences from books published in 2016, in no particular order. If you’re like me, they’ll make you want to eat the whole cake.

The clowns came to get him when it was time for the hanging.
Champion of the World
by Chad Dundas

This is not my beautiful life.
The Next
by Stephanie Gangi

Getting out of prison is like having a rotten tooth pulled from your mouth: it feels good to have it gone, but it’s hard not to keep touching at that hole.
Every Man a Menace
by Patrick Hoffman

On the day that he would first meet Thomas Edison, Paul watched a man burn alive in the sky above Broadway.
The Last Days of Night
by Graham Moore

The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin.
by Ann Patchett

Once, years ago, I left home looking for a grand adventure and spent five months staring at mud.
On Trails
by Robert Moor

With the tops of the trees around the house lost in fog, Michael and Nancy James prepared for the last party they would ever have, though they didn't know it at the time.
Stranger, Father, Beloved
by Taylor Larsen

I was born blue.
The Opposite of Everyone
by Joshilyn Jackson

When I found my husband at the bottom of the stairs, I tried to resuscitate him before I ever considered disposing of the body.
The Passenger
by Lisa Lutz

Furo Wariboko awoke this morning to find that dreams can lose their way and turn up on the wrong side of sleep.
by A. Igoni Barrett

Every night, Frank played harmonica for the cats.
The Flood Girls
by Richard Fifield

You’re not allowed to read this—I’m not even really allowed to write it.
Enchanted Islands
by Allison Amend

The Civil War started in darkness.
City of Sedition
by John Strausbaugh

As True Bliss lay in her bed on the morning of the eve of her one hundredth birthday, the thought that circled her mind, in the applesauce eddy of her mind, the first chunk in the applesauce eddy that her mind could sink its teeth into was please don’t let this day be my last day on earth.
The Remnants
by Robert Hill

It is one of those better-to-be-dead-than-alive days you get in the north of England in February, the space between the land and sky a mere letter box of squeezed light, the sky itself unfathomably banal.
Shylock is My Name
by Howard Jacobson

I first met Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin in Fallujah in early 2005, just before he lost most of his face in the Iraq War.
The Mirror Test
by J. Kael Weston

In early January of 2011, forty-five hundred red-winged blackbirds fell dead from the Arkansas skies.
The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church

When I insisted on keeping the baby, Ned threw his hands into the air palms-forward. He looked like a mime climbing a wall—one of the few times I’ve ever seen him look clumsy.
Sweet Lamb of Heaven
by Lydia Millet

See them in their golden hour, a flood of girls high on the ecstasy of the final bell, tumbling onto the city bus, all gawky limbs and Wonderbra’d cleavage, chewed nails picking at eruptive zits, lips nibbling and eyes scrunching in a doomed attempt not to cry.
Girls on Fire
by Robin Wasserman

We came to the city because we wished to live haphazardly, to reach for only the least realistic of our desires, and to see if we could not learn what our failures had to teach, and not, when we came to live, discover that we had never died.
Why We Came to the City
by Kristopher Jansma

I disappeared from my life in the time it takes to buy a bottle of Yoo-hoo and a package of pork rinds.
The Miracle on Monhegan Island
by Elizabeth Kelly

Only a lunatic would live on the Moon.
The Dark Side
by Anthony O’Neill

On the eve of her thirty-ninth birthday, on the bleakest day of the worst February in memory, Janie made what would turn out to be the pivotal decision of her life: she decided to take a vacation.
The Forgetting Time
by Sharon Guskin

Dear Mrs. Haven—
This morning, at 08:47 EST, I woke up to find myself excused from time.
The Lost Time Accidents
by John Wray

So here I am, upside down in a woman.
by Ian McEwan

This is the story of a ruthless killer, a scofflaw, a keeper of brothels and bordellos, a tax cheat and perpetrator of frauds, a convicted felon, and a mindless, blubbering invalid.
Capone: His Life, Legacy and Legend
by Dierdre Bair

Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang. Insistently.
Kill the Next One
by Federico Axat

For a long time, my mother wasn’t dead yet.
Another Brooklyn
by Jacqueline Woodson

The car was a late-model Oldsmobile, the interior dank and musty, and the driver bore the distinctly sweet, rotting smell of overripe bananas.
Angels of Detroit
by Christopher Hebert

Even before the man with rough hands brought the boy to the locked room, even then there was always already the albino ape sitting on the chair beside the nightstand, waiting for the man and the boy to come.
A Tree or a Person or a Wall
by Matt Bell

Everybody wants to own the end of the world.
Zero K
by Don DeLillo


  1. Excellent work. Thank you.

  2. It seems incredible that you could read that much. I'll take that as a signal that you KNOW books :)

    I recommend one more. More than one actually, but start at the end, here:

  3. The Dark Side one totally cracked me up!! It helps that I'm French - the moon = la lune