Wednesday, July 28, 2010

More Not So Great Second Lines of Novels

Last year I wrote about the Not So Great Second Lines of Novels. Well, here we go again.

Below are what many consider to be some of the greatest first lines of novels. I have scoured libraries across the world, looking through many texts and author notes, and discovered that in most cases, the second line was even better. (Although, for unknown reasons these lines were never actually published, probably because they towered over and thusly diminished the author’s supposed great first line.) Here are a few:

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. My unhappy family is unhappy in the way that Uncle Leo sits in the corner, staring at his teen aged nieces with hungry eyes whilst drinking mead from a wineskin bag, rubbing the palms of his hands together and making lewd comments before asking if anyone wants to be tickled. - Leo Tolstoy (trans. Constance Garnett), Anna Karenina, 1877

The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new. And the nothing new was me lying in the front lawn once again wondering about the whereabouts of my pants? - Samuel Beckett, Murphy, 1938

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. Because I really have to take a whizz. - J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, 1951

It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. After a bit of confusion, the caller posed the question “Would you like to save money on your phone bill by switching to MCI?”
-Paul Auster, City of Glass, 1985

Somewhere in la Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing. He also has a bunch of really good nudie magazines out back in his tool shed. - Miguel de Cervantes (trans. Edith Grossman), Don Quixote, 1605

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. Which you would think means it was staticky and gray, but in actuality it was a deep, neon blue, because the television was hooked up by a coaxial cable to a VCR that had been left on channel three when it should have been tuned to channel four. - William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984

In a sense, I am Jacob Horner. In another sense, I am wearing Mrs. Horner’s undergarments.
- John Barth, The End of the Road, 1958

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself. She also muttered “Fuck me, these are some expensive flowers.” - Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway, 1925

All this happened, more or less. Except for the part where I bragged about having a ménage à trois with two airline stewardesses, which was a complete fabrication. - Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five, 1969

I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story. But even in the most egregious telephone game I do not for the life of me know how “Edith was sleeping with the butler” turned into “The butler was eating Edith’s sheep.” - Edith Wharton, Ethan Frome, 1911

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. Then he switched from the common angle worm to white grubs and it was like the fish were just jumping into the boat. - Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952

I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974. Anything to get out of Detroit.* - Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex, 2002

It was a pleasure to burn. It was also a pleasure to rub my crotch feverishly when I thought no one would notice. - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1953

I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho' not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call'd me. And if this be your bookclub selection, you are now truly fuck'd. - Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe, 1719

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since. When he said, “Shit on me once, and it’s your fault; shit on me twice, and it’s my fault; shit on me a third time, and now we’re getting kinky,” I think he was talking about being in a bad relationship, or he had just come back from the brothel or perhaps he must have been drinking quite heavily, probably all three. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby, 1925

In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains. It was a spectacular view but the rent was a little more than we could responsibly afford and thus we maxed out our credit cards going into the fall. - Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929
* For Nat.


Nat Topping said...


Katie said...

haha! hooray for this post! hooray for the ambitiously funny chris othic!