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Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines 

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Updated June 14, 2019 21.6k votes 2.5k voters 311.7k views 111 items

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
A Tale of Two Cities is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Charles Dickens

First Published: 1859

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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#14 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #36 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

2
Nineteen Eighty-Four is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
George Orwell

First Published: 1949-06-08

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

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#1 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #1 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

3
Fahrenheit 451 is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Ray Bradbury

First Published: 1953

It was a pleasure to burn.

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#9 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #14 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #6 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

4
Moby-Dick; or, The Whale... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Herman Melville

First Published: 1851-10-18

Call me Ishmael.

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#52 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #70 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #7 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

5
Anna Karenina is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Leo Tolstoy

First Published: 1877

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

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#62 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #100 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #8 of 169 Books You'll Never Finish Reading

6
Pride and Prejudice is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Jane Austen

First Published: 1813-01-28

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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#4 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #17 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #40 of 169 Books You'll Never Finish Reading

7
The Hobbit is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
azzy_roth added J. R. R. Tolkien

First Published: 1937-09-21

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit.  

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#5 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #24 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

8
Slaughterhouse-Five is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Kurt Vonnegut

First Published: 1969

All this happened, more or less.

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#48 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #114 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #12 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

9
The Voyage of the Dawn T... is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
10
The Catcher in the Rye ... is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
J. D. Salinger

First Published: 1951-07-16

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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#25 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #34 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

11
The Great Gatsby is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
F. Scott Fitzgerald

First Published: 1925-04-10

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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#23 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #19 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #3 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

12
David Copperfield is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Charles Dickens

First Published: 1850

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.

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#69 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #119 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #25 of 169 Books You'll Never Finish Reading

13
Harry Potter and the Phi... is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Avada added J. K. Rowling

First Published: 1997-06-26

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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#53 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #4 of 171 35+ Books Everybody Lies About Having Readlisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

14
Adventures of Huckleberr... is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Mark Twain

First Published: 1884-12

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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#3 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #9 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #2 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

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

First Published: 1915

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

16
One Hundred Years of Sol... is listed (or ranked) 16 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Gabriel García Márquez

First Published: 1967

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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#95 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #158 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

17
Lolita is listed (or ranked) 17 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov

First Published: 1955

Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.

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#88 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #131 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #77 of 171 35+ Books Everybody Lies About Having Read

18
Don Quixote is listed (or ranked) 18 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Miguel de Cervantes

First Published: 1605

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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#42 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #89 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #17 of 169 Books You'll Never Finish Reading

19
The Bell Jar is listed (or ranked) 19 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Sylvia Plath

First Published: 1963

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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#116 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #167 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #36 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

20
The Color Purple is listed (or ranked) 20 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Alice Walker

First Published: 1982

You better not never tell nobody but God.

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#102 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #105 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Time #18 of 184 The Greatest American Novels

21
The Crow Road is listed (or ranked) 21 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Iain Banks

First Published: 1992

It was the day my grandmother exploded.

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#64 of 100 The Best Books With Road in the Title #6 of 28 The Best Iain Banks Books

22
To Kill a Mockingbird is listed (or ranked) 22 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
DeannaChurch added Harper Lee

First Published: 1960-07-11

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

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#6 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #5 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time

23
The Go-Between is listed (or ranked) 23 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
L. P. Hartley

First Published: 1953

The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.
24
Middle Passage is listed (or ranked) 24 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
Charles R. Johnson

First Published: 1990

Of all the things that drive men to sea, the most common disaster, I've come to learn, is women.
25
Gone with the Wind is listed (or ranked) 25 on the list Famous Novels With The Catchiest First Lines
DeannaChurch added Margaret Mitchell

First Published: 1936-06-30

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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#40 of 1,295 The Best Novels Ever Written #77 of 314 The Top Must-Read Books of All Timelisted on The Best Selling Books of All Time