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Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines

Updated June 14, 2019 22.2k votes 2.8k voters 318.0k views111 items

List RulesNovels 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


  • 1

    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.

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  • 2
    It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

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  • 3

    Fahrenheit 451

    Ray Bradbury
    It was a pleasure to burn.

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  • 4
    It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

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  • 5

    Anna Karenina

    Leo Tolstoy
    Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

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  • 6

    The Hobbit

    J. R. R. Tolkien
    In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  

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  • 7
    Call me Ishmael.

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  • 8


    Kurt Vonnegut
    All this happened, more or less.

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  • 9

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

  • 10

    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
    There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.
  • 12

    The Color Purple

    Alice Walker
    You better not never tell nobody but God.

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  • 13
    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.

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  • 14
    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.

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  • 15

    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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  • 16

    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.

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  • 17

    The Go-Between

    L. P. Hartley
    The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
  • 18

    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.

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  • 19

    The Crow Road

    Iain Banks
    It was the day my grandmother exploded.
  • 20

    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.

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  • 21
    When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.

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  • 22

    Invisible Man

    Ralph Ellison
    I am an invisible man.

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  • 23

    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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  • 24


    Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov
    Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

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  • 25
    He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.