35 Compelling Opening Lines from Famous Books


What draws a reader to pick up a book varies. It could be that it is by a well-known author, or perhaps a classic that everyone reads in school. A good cover can do the trick too. But what about the first paragraph of a story? It has to be something that peeks curiosity and makes you want to continue reading. Some books don’t even need a paragraph to draw a reader in. Sometimes it is the first sentence that hooks you in and makes you want to continue on with the story.

These are 35 of some of the most compelling opening lines to books that are must reads.

  1. Moby Dick: Call me Ishmael.
  2. Pride and Prejudice: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
  3. One Hundred Years of Solitude: Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.
  4. Anna Karenina: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
  5. A Tale of Two Cities: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.
  6. Gravity’s Rainbow: A screaming comes across the sky.
  7. 1984: It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
  8. Invisible Man: I am an invisible man.
  9. Miss Lonelyhearts. The Miss Lonelyhearts of the New York Post-Dispatch (Are you in trouble? Do-you-need-advice? Write-to-Miss-Lonelyhearts-and-she-will-help-you) sat at his desk and stared at a piece of white cardboard.
  10. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.
  11. The Metamorphosis: One morning, as Gregor Samsa awoke from anxious dreams, he discovered that during the night he had been transformed into a monstrous bug.
  12. The Trial: Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.
  13. The Catcher in the Rye: If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
  14. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road and this moocow that was coming down along the road met a nicens little boy named baby tuckoo.
  15. The Nightingale If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.
  16. The Night Circus Th circus arrives without warning.
  17. Frankenstein You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.
  18. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon.
  19. The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy.
  20. The Godfather Amerigo Bonasera sat in New York Criminal Court Number 3 and waited for justice; vengeance on the men who had so cruelly hurt hi daughter, who had tried to dishonor her.
  21. The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho The boy’s name was Santiago.
  22. David Copperfield: Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.
  23. The Stranger: Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.
  24. The Great Gatsby:  In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
  25. Gone with the Wind – Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.
  26. Mrs. Dalloway: Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
  27. Slaughterhouse-Five:  All this happened, more or less.
  28. Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone: Mr. & Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
  29. A Thousand Splendid Suns: Mariam was five years old the first time she heard the word harami.
  30. The Gunslinger: The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.
  31. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.
  32. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens:  MARLEY WAS DEAD, to begin with.
  33. Catch-22: It was love at first sight.  The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.
  34. The Old Man and the Sea: He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.        
  35. Alice in Wonderland:  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

Never underestimate the power of a book’s first sentence. What about you? What’s your favorite opening line to a book? Let us know in the comments!

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