Various thoughts on the "100 best lines from novels" (according to the American Book Review, that is); a.k.a. life inside Jenny Davidson's brain for half an hour on a snowy Tuesday afternoon in January 2006. Violent disagreement and warm endorsement both welcomed below in the comments.
(Thanks to Kermit for the link.)
1. I hate, hate, hate the obviousness of the super-famous first lines. Predictably, the first and second ones given here are "Call me Ishmael" and "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." No fault of Austen or Melville, those are two fabulously good books, but it is very annoying to hear them quoted so often out of context, isn't it?
2. Authors whose names remind me of my teenage self, in a nostalgic rather than retroactively self-despising way: Pynchon, Nabokov, Woolf (the Woolf of Orlando--mentioned here--and Flush--not mentioned here--rather than the Woolf of my not-favorite Mrs. Dalloway).
3. Author I loved as a teenager and still love (1984 is a great novel!): Orwell.
4. Authors whose novels are bizarrely overrepresented on this list: Pynchon, Morrison.
5. I must get and reread The Stranger. James Sallis made me think of this, his Lew Griffin has an obsession with that book.
6. Why the weird attempt to represent a handful of foreign-language titles? It just draws attention to the English-language-ness of the list as a whole.
7. I did not like Ha Jin's Waiting and the opening sentence seems flat and affected in this context also. What I want to read is someone's little speculative essay about the principles of selection beyond the obvious--what do you think are the agendas of these list-makers? I must go and take a look at the rest of the site and see what I can discover.
8. Sylvia Plath is a great poet but The Bell Jar is an interesting & a historically important rather than actually a great novel. Sorry to say this, I have a minor obsession with Plath, but I reread it a couple years ago along with a lot of the journals (which are GREAT) and poems and I am not going to change my mind on this.
9. Other favorite novels of mine here: Katherine Dunn, Geek Love; Robert Graves, I, Claudius (and that really is one of the great opening sentences of English literature); David Copperfield (and I forgot that Catcher in the Rye was so explicit about its Copperfieldness ... hmmm...).
10. Eighteenth-century literature is well represented here. As it should be! The first sentence of Robinson Crusoe really is brilliant, more so in my opinion than the rather flashier Sterne Tristram Shandy also given here. (Oh, of course that one's great too, no reason to take sides...)
11. I am not sure I ever really liked One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was very much in fashion in the 1980s and you sort of had to like it. I liked some things about it. But I have absolutely no desire to ever read it again.
12. "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" (William Gibson, Neuromancer). Now that's an opening sentence I wish I'd written myself. Must go and reread lots of early cyberpunk to get myself in the mood for the next (possible extracurricular, I don't really know where I'm going to fit this in because not only is it not my academic book it's also not the projected sequel to the novel I've just written but rather something completely different) novel I am burning to write.
13. "It was the day my grandmother exploded" (Iain Banks--mistakenly given the M. middle initial here, which I think is wrong--The Crow Road). Another one I'd like very much to have written myself. I love Banks although I find his science fiction novels for the most part virtually unreadable.
14. "Miss Brooke had that kind of beauty which seems to be thrown into relief by poor dress" - George Eliot's heroines are as annoying as they are worthy.
15. I have never heard of Raymond Federman and the opening sentence of Double or Nothing does not make me want to read it at all.
16. I have never read Gilbert Sorrentino but must remedy the situation before many months pass. Quite alluring sample here.
17. Novelists whose charms I am altogether blind to and that though I'm skeptical about the 'great literature'/schlock distinction would put firmly on the side of schlock: Anne Tyler, Anita Brookner.
18. Novelists who I am convinced history will deem wildly overrated and near unreadable due to baroque excess: John Barth, John Hawkes.
19. I wouldn't mind rereading The Tin Drum, what an exceptional novel (and it makes Midnight's Children look rather less extraordinary because somewhat derivative--don't get me wrong, that's a very good novel too, but perhaps not quite on the order of the former).
20. Other novelists I want to read or reread: Beckett, Perec (not on the list), Walter Abish.
21. Last but not least, my own personal favorite on the list (well, Defoe and Dickens are up there too): "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" (Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle). A novel that everyone should read if they have not already. It is fabulously perfect. Just perfect.