First Impressions

Borders is soon to close down. There are fewer than ten days left to their going-out-of-business sale. I’m not sad about this per se. It never was one of my favorite bookstores. However, it is the closest one. Losing it will make life just a little less convenient, and that’s too bad.

I have been taking advantage of the discounted prices, though. I don’t like to pay full price for books. I never have. Until recently, I usually acquired my books at library book sales and tag sales, or off the bargain rack at the bookstore. Basically, if I could get them cheap, I’d buy them, but if they were expensive, I’d pass.

Ultimately, I ended up with a massive collection of crappy books. I still spent a lot of money, but most of the books weren’t worth reading, let alone keeping, hence the GLP (Great Library Purge). I don’t want to do that to myself again, so I’ve had to modify my buying strategy. These days I’m willing to pay full price for a book, but only if I’m almost certain that I’m going to like it.

Modern literature is, IMHO, too expensive. I don’t dare try new authors because I don’t know what I’m getting. How can I shell out $10-$20 for something that might be tripe? The beauty of the Borders sale is that I can try some new books (new as in “not having been rejected by someone else already”) without feeling guilty about the price. It’s nice.

The last time I was there, I browsed the literature section. If a title sounded interesting, I read the description on the jacket. If the jacket description also sounded interesting, I read the first page. Most of those first pages were weak. I was particularly surprised by the lackluster first sentences. I mean, it’s not absolutely necessary to start your novel with a kick-ass first sentence, but it sure doesn’t hurt. You’d think, given the stakes, that authors would put a little extra pep into the first few words. As we are so often told, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Those pathetic first sentences made me think about some of my favorite books—how do they start? I looked through them and found many good starters. Here are some of the best.

  1. Skippy and Ruprecht are having a doughnut-eating race one evening when Skippy turns purple and falls off the chair. (Skippy Dies by Paul Murray)
  2. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. (1984 by George Orwell)
  3. Jack Torrance thought: Officious little prick. (The Shining by Stephen King)
  4. Once upon a time there was a pair of pants. (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares)
  5. Once on a dark winter’s day, when the yellow fog hung so thick and heavy in the streets of London that the lamps were lighted and the shop windows blazed with gas as they do at night, an odd-looking little girl sat in a cab with her father and was driven rather slowly through the big thoroughfares. (A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  6. “Where’s Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. (Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White)
  7. When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen. (The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett)
  8. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice, “without pictures or conversations?” (Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll)
  9. I know people who say they can read any kind of book except an “I” book, and sometimes I think I agree with them. (The Well-Wishers by Edward Eager)
  10. This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it. (The Princess Bride by William Goldman)
  11. The carriage gave another lurch, and Maria Merryweather, Miss Heliotrope, and Wiggins once more fell into each other’s arms, sighed, gasped, righted themselves, and fixed their attention upon those objects which were for each of them at this trying moment the source of courage and strength. (The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge)
  12. She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days. (The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale)
  13. To my lawyer, Saxonberg: I can’t say that I enjoyed your last visit. (from From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L Konigsburg)
  14. It was a dark and stormy night. (A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle)
  15. Look, I didn’t want to be a half-blood. (The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan)
  16. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. (Holes by Louis Sachar)
  17. Dominic was a lively one, always up to something. (Dominic by William Steig)
  18. Squire Trelawney, Dr Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17–, and go back to the time when my father kept the “Admiral Benbow” inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof. (Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson)
  19. Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof. (Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Mongomery)
  20. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling)
  21. My Father had a face that could stop a clock. (The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde)
  22. This chapter is for those people who remember Earth. (The Last Legends of Earth by A.A. Attanasio)
  23. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. (Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen)
  24. I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving)
  25. Christmas crept into Pine Cove like a creeping Christmas thing: dragging garland, ribbon, and sleigh bells, oozing eggnog, reeking of pine, and threatening festive doom like a cold sore under the mistletoe. (The Stupidest Angel by Christopher Moore)
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