Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Seven beginnings

Which (if any!) of these openings made you want to go on reading? So titles and authors won’t prejudice people, I’m putting them in the first comment (mine!). All have stayed in print since they were first published (at least 19 years).

When I typed them up, I didn’t expect them to have anything in common. I was surprised by how IMMEDIATELY each (with one possible exception) creates a feeling, world, atmosphere. Some do it by the end of the first sentence; it takes others a paragraph,but they all put you right into the story. To me, each also has an air of authority, of confidence, even inevitability. THIS, the author seems to just know, this exact moment, is where this story starts.

How the authors achieve this I don’t know – I’m going to think about it and if I can figure it out, say next week. But for now, I’d really like to know how other people react to these – not to the books themselves, but to their beginnings. So I hope you'll say which ones (if any!) made you want to go on reading.

1.
The woman put her sad moon-face in the window of the car. “You be good,” she said. “You hear me? You little ones, mind what Dicey tells you. You hear?”

2.
It was dusk – winter dusk. Snow lay white and shining over the pleated hills, and icicles hung from the forest trees. Snow lay piled on the dark road across Willoughby Wold, but from dawn men had been clearing it with brooms and shovels. There were hundreds of them at work, wrapped in sacking because of the bitter cold, and keeping together in groups for fear of the wolves, grown savage and reckless from hunger.

3.
Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air-raids. They were sent to the house of an old Professor who lived in the heart of the country, ten miles from the nearest railway station and two miles from the nearest post office.

4.
Brian Robeson stared out the window of the small plane at the endless green northern wilderness below. It was a small plane, a Cessna 406 – a bushplane – and the engine was so loud that, so roaring and consuming and loud, that it ruined any chance for conversation.

5. Chapter I
The Old Sea Dog at the ‘Admiral Benbow’
Squire Trelawney, Dr.Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17--, and go back to the time when my father kept the ‘Admiral Benbow’ inn, and the brown old seaman, with the sabre cut, first took up his lodging under our roof.

6.
The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it so one could be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day. If the weather were not too wet, one was expected to ‘save the penny and walk.’

7.
Once on a time there was a poor husbandman who had so many children that he hadn’t much of either food or clothing to give them.

11 comments:

Libby Koponen said...

1. Homecoming, Cynthia Voigt

2. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken

3. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis

4. Hatchett, Gary Paulsen

5. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson

6. Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfield

7. East of the Sun, West of the Moon (folk tale)

alvina said...

While I would keep reading all of them, I was most drawn to #1 and #4, although I knew which books they were so I wonder if that prejudiced me. When I'm reading now, I generally like to be drawn into the action right away. But as a child, I would have loved #3, #4, and #7 because they sound old-fashioned and I loved (well, still love...) those kind of books in general. But except for #7, as openings they just didn't really grab me, and I found #4 is kind of convoluted.

#2 is beautiful, but I had to read it two or three times to "get" it (but that could be because I'm reading this first thing in the morning).

And #5, again, is a very old-fashioned kind of opening, but I liked that you knew immediately that it was about pirates and treasure, and it has a nice mood to it.

But I've read all of the books except for #2 and #7, so that may have affected my opinion.

Cool post! Libby, did you really post this at 4:30 am?!

Libby Koponen said...

I chose these because they all (with the possible exception of # 4) made me want to go on reading. Many books in bookstores -- especially the ones that seem to be trying too hard to catch your attention with the first sentence! -- make me STOP reading. I read the beginning, find it contrived (or just boring!) and then close the book.

One of the fascinating things about books is how differently people react to them, and I think it's interesting that you (Alvina) can and do separate how you would have responded to these openings as a child and how you respond now.

And it's also interesting that while you don't especially like any of these openings, you'd go on reading all of them.....that was the question and I'm really curious about which ones other people would go on reading!

Grace Lin said...

I have to admit that on #2 and #5. I stopped reading and started skimming the rest of the paragraph I tended to like the more literal "introductory ones" like #3 and #6 or the immediate like #1 or #7. But,I knew the most of the books too, so I think that affected my decision. Interesting.

Anna Alter said...

I definitely liked #2 the best, it pulled me in the fastest, I think because it is so sensory- I got an immediate lay of the land, and the tone instantly caused an emotional reaction (fear and anticipation.)

I also love #3, I like how simple it is, how literal and inviting.

Nancy said...

My choices were #6, then #3, then #1. I think it has to do with naming people right away, and which names were chosen.

Love "Fossil sisters" and "save the penny and walk".

Love the very matter of fact, plain language and names of #3

Got a little tripped up by "sad moon-face" but recovered with "mind what Dicey tells you."


#2 was too wordy and I skimmed it.

#4 I was turned off by "bushplane" and "Robeson"

#5 was too hard to read, old-fashioned

#7 I was turned off by "husbandman"

gloria estefan said...

I obviously knew a few of them but tried not to be influenced. I picked #1. I like the "moon face" description and I like the immediate attitude. "You be good" also implies that something might happen... or has happened. They are definitely not staying with their mother. I haven't read that book so please tell me if I'm right or wrong! I voted 1 because I want to know what happens next. Some of the old fashioned ones I would probably like after a few chapters. The A.D.D in me doesn't want to wait that long!

Libby Koponen said...

Meghan, everything you thought was true about # 1 IS true -- another one of the things that amazes me about these openings is how much information and emotion and anticipation the writers manages to give in a few lines! --"give" is the wrong word, maybe "offer" would be more accurate. The inferences are there - what the reader gets depends on the reader. I think also that the best books make implicit promises in these openings -- but more on that later! Now I want to reread what you wrote for today!

Donald Hinkle said...

Homecoming intrigued me with the moon face and the homey way she talks. Wolves gave me a chill. The classic Lion, etc. has a dated kind of sound and, strangely enough, I've never read all of that book or any other book by Lewis except his Screwtape tales. Hatchett, of course, I knew, but liked especially in this reading, the repetition of the "that", which surprises as if the author were telling the story aloud, pauses and adds emphasis without attending to grammar. Nice. Treasure Island, of course, is always a grabber for me. Ballet Shoes, for me, sucked. And I'm always drawn to folk tales because of the possibilities for high poetry and excitement more so than in more ordinary stories.

jess said...

I have to admit, too, that I was biased by having read most of those before, and immediately recognizing them.

From a more literary standpoint, I'd probably go with #1, because it feels innocent but loaded (or maybe I only think that because I know what happens).

As a child, 2, 3, 6 & 7 would probably have hooked me best - I liked old-fashioned & mysterious.

I read #6 ages ago and reading the beginning makes me want to pick it up again.

#4 remind me how much I disliked Hatchet - the technical detail, the sense of discomfort.

DorChi said...

Number 2 is definitely a winner for me! It brings out a feeling of something unnatural, very mystical. Also the atmosphere is kind of claustrophobic, empty and leaves so many possibilities of what's going to happen.