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15 Novel Recommendations Using Just the First Line of the Book

by Paul Combs 25 days ago in literature

The First Line Sets the Tone

15 Novel Recommendations Using Just the First Line of the Book
Photo by Alexandra Fuller on Unsplash

Authors and publishers spend a huge amount of time and effort crafting a jacket blurb that will get you to buy a novel. This makes perfect sense; in a fiercely competitive market grabbing the reader’s attention is crucial. But maybe, in some cases at least, they’ve been overthinking things the whole time.

The opening line of a novel sets the tone for the entire book, and there are many that have become as famous as the book that contains them. From “Call me Ishmael” in Moby Dick to “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” in A Tale of Two Cities, there are numerous instances where the only part of the book we know is that opening line.

This got me to thinking: what if you used nothing but the opening line to promote the novel? Are there any that are interesting enough to make you read any further, let alone buy the thing? I mean, if I’m honest, although “call me Ishmael” may be well-known now, it doesn’t exactly make me want to read 700 pages about a whale.

After searching through the books on my own shelves, I actually found quite a few that I think could work for this type of minimalist marketing; I am limiting the list to 15 to keep it from spiraling out of control. I’m including several books you may not have encountered before in the hope that the line will inspire you to give the book a try. Also, several are works in translation, which I always encourage you to check out.

So with no hype, no fancy marketing buzzwords, nothing but the sentence the author considered important enough to place first in their labor of love, would you pick up any (or all) of these?

(Also, please be aware that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I have tried to link only the titles that are harder to find at your local indie bookstore, though you can still order from them. I may receive a commission for purchases made through these links).

1. "I'm pretty much fucked." - Andy Weir, The Martian

2. "I noticed her the first time she came in the store, and right from the start I picked her for a thief, although that day she didn't take anything." -  Rodrigo Rey Rosa, Severina

3. "All children mythologize their birth." - Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

4. "I have never begun a novel with more misgiving." - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor's Edge

5. "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." - Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero

6. "I died typing mid-sentence in a T-shirt and boxer shorts in front of my computer." -  Richard Vetere, The Writers Afterlife

7. "Everyone has a Cordova story, whether they like it or not." -  Marisa Pessl, Night Film

8. "I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time." - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind

9. "Perched on the bluff's edge, the house is in danger." -  Erika Swyler, The Book of Speculation

10. "Telephones exist for breaking all kinds of bad news." -  Serhiy Zhadan, Voroshilovgrad

11. "Boog warned me about Washington, but until I saw the rich lady set her pugs on the dinner table, I didn't take him seriously." - Larry McMurtry, Cadillac Jack

12. "My father had a face that could stop a clock." - Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair

13. "Jude had a private collection." - Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box

14. "I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up." - Jack Kerouac, On the Road

15. "A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story." - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel's Game

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Paul Combs
Paul Combs
Read next: 12 Facts You Didn't Know About 'Twilight'
Paul Combs

I’m a writer, podcaster, and bookseller whose ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take a while.

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