Lists are all over the internet, this blog looks at those lists.
Much is made of the importance of the first line of a novel in getting a reader’s attention, and many, many people have made their lists of the opening lines that they think are the best.
Best – The usual caveats about “Greatest”/”Most Famous”/”Most Beautiful”/”Most Memorable” apply.
Opening Lines – The first line, lines, paragraph.
Novel – Some use the term “literature,” some “books,” but let’s assume we all know what we mean and it’s all novels.
25. Shmoop – The 25 Best Opening Lines in Western Literature.
Top 20 count-up. 13 Jul 2010.
- Poorly formatted.
- Really lame joke titles for each entry.
- Weak, but brief descriptions of each opening line that adds nothing but noise to the list.
10. Listverse – Top 15 Opening Lines of Books.
LordZB, Top 15 count-up, 23 Nov 2011.
- Horribly formatted list. A real mess.
9. The Telegraph – 30 Great Opening Lines in Literature.
Top 30 count-up.
- Pretty looking with prominent cover/author portrait. The quote and details are a little under emphasised.
- Does to the page-per-entry clickbait thing.
8. Stylist – The Best 100 Opening Lines From Books.
Various, unnumbered Top 100.
- Hugely popular list, linked or reblogged all over the place.
- Comprehensive and good looking list, but more a page-per-entry clickbait crap.
7. What Culture – 30 Best Opening Lines of Classic Books.
Matt Hannigan, Top 30 Countdown.
- Multi-page (12 for the full 30 entries).
- OK formatting, interesting analysis of the lines but a bit wordy.
6. I’m With Geek – Top 10 Best Opening Lines to Books.
Emma Raymond, Top 10 Countdown, 8/9/2014.
- 2 pages.
- Average formatting, especially the quote/author/book details.
- OK analysis.
5. Entertainment Monthly – Top Ten Best Opening Lines: Books Edition
Christopher Falcioni, Top 10 countdown, 13 Aug 2013.
- Well formatted single page top 10.
- List feels a little gimmicky and thrown together.
4. American Book Review – 100 Best First Lines From Novels.
Top 100 countdown.
- Second most popular list.
- Comprehensive, but badly formatted single page list.
3. Pop! Goes the Reader – Top Ten Best Opening Lines of a Novel.
Jen, Unnumbered Top 10, 30 Jul 2013.
- Very pretty list.
Claire Luchette, Top 10 count up, 24 Sep 2014.
- A very different list to the others and its uniqueness makes it worth looking at.
- Single page, reasonable formatting with some issues.
1. Lit Reactor – The Top Ten Best Opening Lines of Novels.
Meredith Borders, Top 10 count-up, 2 Dec 2011.
- Really well formatted (although the title and author overshadow the quote).
- An informed list. Nothing that doesn’t appear on the larger lists but doesn’t favour the more obvious choices.
- A group of opening lines, chosen by famous writers and as such not a Top X list, so I’ve excluded it, but it is a great selection and an interesting approach – worth watching.
This list is created from the positions on the top tens from the above lists.
10. [11.5] The Hobbit ~ JRR Tolkien (1937)
“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”
9.  California ~ Edan Lepucki (2014)
“On the map, their destination had been a stretch of green, as if they would be living on a golf course.”
7- [17.05] Harry Potter & Philosopher’s Stone ~ JK Rowling (1997)
“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
7- [17.05] Lolita ~ Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
“Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.”
6. [22.05] The Bell Jar ~ Sylvia Plath (1963)
“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
5.  Moby Dick ~ Herman Melville (1851)
“Call Me Ishmael.”
4. [29.05] 1984 ~ George Orwell (1949)
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
3. [31.55] Anna Karenina ~ Leo Tolstoy (1787)
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
2. [35.55] A Tale of Two Cities ~ Charles Dickens (1859)
“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.”
1. [42.05] Pride & Prejudice ~ Jane Austen (1813)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”