novels Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines  

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List Rules Novels that have often quoted first lines or opening sentences that are otherwise in the cultural zeitgeist. Vote up the most memorable.

The opening lines of a novel can prove crucial, and many authors spend an inordinate amount of time considering how their books will begin. From Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities to Melville's Moby Dick, often the opening sentence or two of a book will become the most frequently quoted and iconic passage from the entire novel. This list has the best novels with great first lines, bound to make the best impression on readers. 

These books of fiction are well known for their opening lines. The authors know that books don't just need a great story, there also needs to be something that draws in the reader. The opening line is that hook and the books on this list all have intriguing, interesting, and unique opening sentences.

This is a list of the greatest novels with the best introductory text, including world literature (with an emphasis on English literature), from throughout history, with the most memorable and significant beginnings. Vote up the most memorable first lines from fiction below.

Source: American Book Review

list ordered by

1
509 86
A Tale of Two Cities is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
A Tale of Two Cities Charles Dickens 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.

2
415 106
Nineteen Eighty-Four is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

3
369 100
Fahrenheit 451 is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury It was a pleasure to burn.

4
328 94
Anna Karenina is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Anna Karenina Leo Tolstoy Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

5
333 106
Pride and Prejudice is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

6
253 73
The Hobbit is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
azzy_roth added The Hobbit J. R. R. Tolkien In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  

7
298 101
Slaughterhouse-Five is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Slaughterhouse-Five Kurt Vonnegut All this happened, more or less.

8
340 122
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale Herman Melville Call me Ishmael.

9
227 89
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader C. S. Lewis There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

10
183 67
David Copperfield is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
David Copperfield Charles Dickens Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.

11
169 65
One Hundred Years of Solitude is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

12
101 26
Harry Potter and the Philosoph... is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Avada added Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone J. K. Rowling

Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were very normal, thank you very much.

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13
220 97
The Catcher in the Rye is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger 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.

14
212 94
The Great Gatsby is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

15
132 47
The Metamorphosis is listed (or ranked) 15 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Metamorphosis Franz Kafka

As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.

16
188 82
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter.

17
174 74
Don Quixote is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Don Quixote Miguel de Cervantes 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.

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18
144 57
Middle Passage is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Middle Passage Charles R. Johnson Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women.

19
139 54
The Bell Jar is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Bell Jar Sylvia Plath It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.

20
117 42
To Kill a Mockingbird is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
DeannaChurch added To Kill a Mockingbird Harper Lee When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

21
125 48
The Go-Between is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Go-Between L. P. Hartley The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

22
101 33
Gone with the Wind is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
DeannaChurch added Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell Scarlett O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.

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23
121 46
The Color Purple is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Color Purple Alice Walker You better not never tell nobody but God.

24
165 75
The Crow Road is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Crow Road Iain Banks It was the day my grandmother exploded.

25
114 45
Paradise is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Paradise Toni Morrison They shoot the white girl first.

26
101 39
Middlesex is listed (or ranked) 26 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Middlesex Jeffrey Eugenides 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.

27
193 103
Lolita is listed (or ranked) 27 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Lolita Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

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28
91 39
Back When We Were Grownups is listed (or ranked) 28 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Back When We Were Grownups Anne Tyler Once upon a time, there was a woman who discovered she had turned into the wrong person.

29
107 51
Their Eyes Were Watching God is listed (or ranked) 29 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Their Eyes Were Watching God Zora Neale Hurston Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board.

30
101 47
Scaramouche: A Romance of the ... is listed (or ranked) 30 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Scaramouche: A Romance of the French Revolution Rafael Sabatini He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.

31
113 56
Neuromancer is listed (or ranked) 31 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Neuromancer William Gibson The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

32
95 43
Chromos is listed (or ranked) 32 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Chromos Felipe Alfau The moment one learns English, complications set in.

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33
96 44
A Frolic of His Own is listed (or ranked) 33 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
A Frolic of His Own William Gaddis Justice? You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.

34
110 55
Notes from Underground is listed (or ranked) 34 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Notes from Underground Fyodor Dostoyevsky I am a sick man... I am a spiteful man.

35
86 41
Tracks is listed (or ranked) 35 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Tracks Robyn Davidson We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.

36
143 84
Catch-22 is listed (or ranked) 36 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Catch-22 Joseph Heller It was love at first sight.

37
123 69
Invisible Man is listed (or ranked) 37 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Invisible Man Ralph Ellison I am an invisible man.

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38
69 29
The Trial is listed (or ranked) 38 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Trial Franz Kafka Someone must have slandered Josef K., for one morning, without having done anything truly wrong, he was arrested.

39
83 40
The Red Badge of Courage is listed (or ranked) 39 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Red Badge of Courage Stephen Crane The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.

40
103 56
The Stranger is listed (or ranked) 40 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Stranger Albert Camus Mother died today.

41
79 40
The End of the Affair is listed (or ranked) 41 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The End of the Affair Graham Greene A story has no beginning or end; arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.

42
89 48
The Old Man and the Sea is listed (or ranked) 42 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingway 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.

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43
74 40
I Capture the Castle is listed (or ranked) 43 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
I Capture the Castle Dodie Smith I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.

44
70 37
Ethan Frome is listed (or ranked) 44 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Ethan Frome Edith Wharton I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.

45
73 40
Gravity's Rainbow is listed (or ranked) 45 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Gravity's Rainbow Thomas Pynchon A screaming comes across the sky.

46
66 35
City of Glass is listed (or ranked) 46 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
City of Glass Douglas Coupland 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.

47
62 32
The Napoleon of Notting Hill is listed (or ranked) 47 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
The Napoleon of Notting Hill G. K. Chesterton The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up.

48
57 33
Paul Clifford is listed (or ranked) 48 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Paul Clifford Edward Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

49
43 21
A Clockwork Orange is listed (or ranked) 49 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
kingbee63 added A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, that is Pete, Georgie and Dim and we sat in the Korova milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening.

50
68 43
Murphy is listed (or ranked) 50 on the list Famous Novels with the Catchiest First Lines
Murphy Samuel Beckett The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.