With a full understanding of how geeky this sounds, I must make a confession: Each and every day while walking through the hallowed aisles of the library, excitement grips me as I ponder the many worlds surrounding me on the shelves. A book about pygmies with severe dandruff and sublime musical talents might sit next to one about a blond nymphet who pines after a bi-polar werewolf. Across the aisle might sit the story of a gold miner who, after finding his life’s savings wiped out by a flash flood, turns to drinking and murder. Anything an author can imagine, including many things that I could not imagine, can unfold in the pages of a book.
On occasion I will be intrigued by a title or book jacket and will read the plot summary. If sufficiently impressed with the description I will next want to examine the author’s writing style. And where better to start than at the book’s beginning? First sentences are the window to a book’s soul, a literary equivalent of personal ads on craigslist, designed to engage a reader and to woo him or her away from competing books with their less interesting unfoldings.
Take, for example, the immortal first sentence of Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton:
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents–except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
That just about says it all. And even more than all.
One day I began to wonder about the contents of the many books I’ve never investigated. How many scrofulous pygmy stories were escaping my purview, taunting me on a daily basis? So I set up a library experiment for all to witness, randomly choosing books and examining their first sentences to see what they contribute to our sacred shelves.
And here is what I found.
“I’m not in labor, am I?” Cora Lee asked.
“If the eyes could lie, his troubles might all be over.”
Gardiner, Montana: “Edward Fiske stepped from the shadowed recesses of the front porch.”
“In my apartment in California there hangs a picture of my grandfather.”
“This is the day the world changes.”
“The screens in Michael Slater’s editing suite had immaculate reception.”
“Nick Meehan knew there was more to every story, but he usually didn’t want to hear it.”
“You mean to tell me every single exorcist in this city is gone?”
“If she didn’t get something to eat, her coworkers would have to take cover!”
“The Andaman Sea stretches out for 218,100 square miles along the southern peninsula of Thailand, extending south until it tickles the shores of Indonesia, flowing west where it mixes with the dark water of the Indian Ocean.”
Some of these sentences make me long to know more. Where have all the exorcists gone? And why does the city need multiple exorcists? Is the world changing for better or for worse? Why are we in Thailand? Will Cora Lee’s baby be delivered safely? So many stories waiting to be told!
If any of these sentences catch your eye, click on the book’s title to read a plot summary. And perhaps this will lead you to reading the entire book, maybe even other books by the author. Who knows, perhaps a new literary love affair is about to begin!