Novelist picks her favorite opening lines


September 17, 1995|By James Warren | James Warren,Chicago Tribune

Whether it's a blind date or a novel, we'd all agree that opening lines are pretty important.

So it's intriguing to pick up the 25th anniversary, Sept.-Oct. issue of the trade publication Poets & Writers and find one novelist, Rosellen Brown, offering her 25 favorites from novels, either at or near their beginning.

The author of "Before and After" writes that the lines "that would make me want to be a writer if I weren't one already" include:

* "A desperate foolishness. The crops failed. I sold my children." (Carly Phillips, "Crossing the River.")

* "A chancery judge once had the kindness to inform me, as one of a company of some hundred and fifty men and women not labouring under any suspicions of lunacy, that the Court of Chancery, though the shining subject of much popular prejudice (at which point I thought the judge's eye had a cast in my direction), was almost immaculate." (Charles Dickens, "Bleak House.")

* "The name of the train was the Yellow Dog." (Eudora Welty, "Delta Wedding.")

* "There were ninety-seven New York advertising men in the hotel, and, the way they were monopolizing the long-distance lines, the girl in 507 had to wait from noon till almost two-thirty to get her call through." (J.D. Salinger, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish.")

* "Barcelona at dawn. The hotels are dark. All the great avenues are pointing to the sea." (James Salter, "Am Strande von Tanger.")

* "Riding up the winding road of Saint Agnes Cemetery in the back of the rattling old truck, Francis Phelan became aware that the dead, even more than the living, settled down in neighborhoods." (William Kennedy, "Ironweed.")

VTC * "I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills." (Isak Dinesen, "Out of Africa.")

* "Nobody died that year. Nobody prospered." (Renata Adler, "Speedboat.")

On complaints

Sept. 19 Family Circle has its usual fluff and weird factoids and medical studies, including one researcher's conclusion that complainers tend to feel better 15 or so minutes after they start complaining about something.

Web of intrigue

Next time you see a spider web in a corner, consider this: Sept.-Oct. Sciences details the intriguing efforts to mass-produce spider silk, a fabric softer than cotton but also capable of withstanding "greater weight than can a steel cable of comparable dimensions." Millions of dollars have been spent trying to understand the silk's intricate molecular structure (yes, spider DNA), including by the U.S. Army, and hope looms (so to speak) that ways to make mass quantities will be figured out.

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