T5W | Favourite First Sentences

Welcome one, welcome all, to ‘Emma Remembers Top 5 Wednesdays Exists And Decides To Join In’… again. Top 5 Wednesday is a weekly meme/challenge which was created by the wonderful Lainey from gingereadslainey and is now overseen by the equally lovely Sam from Thoughts of Tomes. Every Wednesday, participants devise their Top 5 based on a given topic. This Wednesday’s theme is Favourite First Sentences. As we all know, first sentences do a lot to sell a book to a new reader. They are an author’s chance to really grab the reader and suck them into the world they have created. Because of this, my favourite first sentences are often ones which instantly highlight the weird or wonderful story that is about to unfold in front of my very eyes.

Confession time: I am a fiend for browsing those ‘top 100 first lines of novels’ lists that you often get on book sites (I’ve linked some at the bottom of this post), to the point where I collect opening lines. I might end up with a first sentence in my collection which I adore because it sets up a story so wonderfully, even if I didn’t end up loving the story that follows. Likewise, some of my favourite books only have so-so opening lines in comparison. So, whilst some of these first lines are on the list because they are the opening lines of some of my favourite books, others on this list are just damn good first lines. Since this is quite long enough already, I’ll just let the lines speak for themselves instead of rambling on about why I picked them – if you’re curious though, comment below and I’d be happy to explain my reasoning.

Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t simply pick five so, instead, I offer up 4 different lists which contain my top 5 first sentences from… Shakespeare plays, classics, modern/contemporary novels, and books I have yet to read – hopefully you enjoy a good list as much as I do, since I’ve given you four of them!

Enough explanation, let’s go…

Top 5 First Sentences from… Shakespeare

Honourable mention: “Two households, both alike in dignity, /In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, / From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, / Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
(Romeo and Juliet)

5. “Who’s there?”
(Hamlet)

4. “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York; / And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
(Richard III)

3. “O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend / The brightest heaven of invention, / A kingdom for a stage, princes to act / And monarchs to behold the swelling scene!”
(Henry V)

2. “If music be the food of love, play on; / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, / The appetite may sicken, and so die.”
(Twelfth Night)

1. “Before we proceed any further, hear me speak.”
(Coriolanus)

Top 5 First Sentences from… Classics

Honourable mention: “No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be a heroine.”
(Northanger Abbey – Jane Austen)

5. “No one would have believed, in the last years of the nineteenth century, that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences greater than man’s and yet as mortal as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water.”
(The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells)

4. “Marley was dead, to begin with.”
(A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens)

3. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
(Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier)

2. “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.”
(A Tale of Two Cities – Charles Dickens)

1. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
(Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen)

Top 5 First Sentences from… Modern/Contemporary Books

Honourable mention: “Someone was looking at me, a disturbing sensation if you’re dead.”
(A Certain Slant of Light – Laura Whitcomb)

Honourable mention #2: “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”
(The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman)

5. “It’s rare that a story begins at the beginning.”
(The Mime Order – Samantha Shannon)

4. “The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
(The Secret History – Donna Tartt)

3. “Later, as he sat on his balcony eating the dog, Dr. Robert Laing reflected on the unusual events that had taken place within this huge apartment building during the previous three months.”
(High-Rise – J.G. Ballard)

2. “First the colours. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.”
(The Book Thief – Markus Zusak)

1. “Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.”
(Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling)

Top 5 First Sentences from… Books I Have Yet To Read

5. “I am a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking.”
(Goodbye to Berlin – Christopher Isherwood)

4. “Some years ago there was in the city of York a society of magicians.”
(Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell – Susanna Clarke)

3. “All this happened, more or less.”
(Slaughterhouse-Five – Kurt Vonnegut)

2. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
(1984 – George Orwell)

1. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
(Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy)

So there we have it – those were the top 5 first sentences from books. Do you agree with my choices? Do you disagree? Do you have a Top 5 Wednesday list or post of your own? Be sure to link it below if so; I’d love to take a look!


The Telegraph’s 30 Great Opening Lines in Literature
American Book Review’s 100 Best Lines from Novels
Stylist’s The Best 100 Opening Lines
Buzzfeed’s 53 Of The Best Opening Sentences In Literature


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10 thoughts on “T5W | Favourite First Sentences

  1. Jack T 27/08/2016 / 20:10

    A Shakespeare favorite first lines? Oh, be still, my beating heart.

    Such interesting and provocative choices. And so wide-ranging.

    And of course, A Christmas Carol, potentially my favorite holiday read. I start it every Thanksgiving! Which reminds me, I must get my Mom to dig it out of storage for me!

    • Emma 27/08/2016 / 20:13

      Haha glad to see someone appreciates it, I had to put that early modern literature degree to some kind of use! ;)

      I’m probably going to re-read A Christmas Carol this holiday season too. It’s definitely one to try during Christmas.

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • Jack T 27/08/2016 / 21:07

        I haven’t read so much early modern literature. We don’t seem to like to acknowledge people wrote before 1776. Y’all have a much better choice of books in college.

        It’s a holiday must. You should definitely re-read it. As soon as the football is over, I slide off into a quiet corner and pretend the world doesn’t exist while Black Friday wipes out the nation. It’s a solid holiday plan.

        You’re most welcome, Ma’am.

  2. Cinderzenablogs 17/08/2016 / 16:57

    LOL, this has gotto be the smartest way to do it. How can one chose from dozens of lines one’s in love with >_> Love them all!! My favourite line from Hamlet has gotto be when he says “Words, words, words” to Polonius! ROFL everytime i recollect it!

    • Emma 18/08/2016 / 13:31

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m glad people have embraced my indecisiveness that prompted me to just make 4 separate lists. :P

      I love it when Hamlet interacts with Polonius. Also when an audience can appreciate the irony of Polonius commenting that “Brevity is the soul of wit” – he might take his own advice sometime! ;)

    • Liz Whitehouse 17/08/2016 / 18:12

      You haven’t read 1984?!?!

      Also, I like this, makes it easier to choose the lines and to make sure you don’t miss nay out!

      • Emma 18/08/2016 / 13:32

        I have a feeling this comment was meant for me and accidentally put as a reply? :P Because yeah I haven’t read 1984 – I DNFed it back when I wasn’t as disciplined about reading, shhhh! I WILL finish it some day though, I’m mildly ashamed I haven’t before now.

    • Emma 18/08/2016 / 13:35

      I’m an incredibly indecisive person, it’s a blessing and a curse. :P

      Thanks for reading and commenting! :)

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