Friday Non-Random 10 (Literature Variant)

I found this meme over at LiveJournal: pick 10 favorite books and list the first lines of each. Here’s my list, in alphabetical order by author’s family name.

  1. The gale tore at him and he felt its bite deep within and he knew that if they did not make landfall in three days they would all be dead.

  2. When I was about eleven or twelve I set up a lab in my house.
  3. A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy.
  4. It was love at first sight.
  5. The call from dispatch is such a provocation it causes him to jerk the cruiser off the street and into a parking lot, slam the transmission into PARK, and just sit there, working up a major case of the red ass.
  6. Veldt to scrub to fields to farms to these first tumbling houses that rise from the earth.
  7. Two hours before dawn I sat in the peeling kitchen and smoked one of Sarah’s cigarettes, listening to the maelstrom and waiting.
  8. When the phone rang I was in the kitchen, boiling a potful of spaghetti and whistling along with an FM broadcast of the overture to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie, which has to be the perfect music for cooking pasta.
  9. The Deliverator belongs to an elite order, a hallowed subcategory.
  10. The Creator sat upon the throne, thinking.

Guess the sources in the comments. Many of these will be easy for this audience. #9 is definitely the easiest; the hardest may be #4 since the line itself is pretty generic. Googling is obviously cheating but checking your own bookshelf probably not.

25 thoughts on “Friday Non-Random 10 (Literature Variant)

  1. Mason

    Cool meme.
    I’m too lazy to make a list of my own, especially as many of my books are at my parents’ place (which is in part an artifact of all the moving I’ve done in recent years).

  2. Arcane Gazebo

    My copies of three of these books are at my parents’ place, and two of them are loaned out to people. Fortunately usually makes the first page available online, which is how I got the first lines of the ones I didn’t have on hand.

  3. Anonymous

    1 – Shogun, James Clavell
    2 – Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feinman! – Richard Feynman (this one is a shot-in-the-dark guess)
    3 – unfamiliar to me
    4 – no clue
    5 – I feel it would be synergistic of me to answer this one. But I think we know I know it.
    6 – Perdido Street Station – China Mieville
    7 – Altered Carbon – Richard Morgan
    8 – Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – Haruki Murakami
    9 – Snow Crash – Neal Stephenson
    10 – no clue, but I have to say I’m curious.
    Since I have separately started Bird Chronicle, Altered Carbon, and Perdido Street Station I was fortunate enough to be able to guess them and be confirmed upon looking them up. But I need to slate some time to read the whole things.

  4. Arcane Gazebo

    Nice, those are all correct. That leaves #s 3,4,5, and 10 yet to be named. #10 is actually pretty hard.
    Has the spontaneous anonymity bug returned? I wonder if it’s related to one person posting a comment while someone else is previewing.

  5. Josh

    Oh, and here are some of mine (if I can make 10 with my shortage of books right now…), in no particular order and not necessarily my top 10. Some of them are plays or short stories. I’ll extend to two sentences if I see fit for a couple which are one to four words.
    1 – A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head.
    2 – Here begins our tale. The empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide.
    3 – The night sky brightened faintly in the east with the approach of dawn as the Chosen entered the Gardens of Life.
    4 – On the twenty-eighth of February, 1936 (on the third day, that is, of the February 26 Incident) , Lieutenant Shinji Takayama of the Konoe Transport Battalion – profoundly disturbed by the knowledge that his closest colleagues had been with the mutineers from the beginning, and indignant at the imminent prospect of Imperial troops attacking Imperial troops – took his officer’s sword and ceremonially disembowelled himself in the eight-mat room of his private residence in the sixth block of Aoba-chou, in Yotsuya Ward.
    5 – I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.
    6 – True!-nervous-very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?
    7 – “When shall we three meet again?”
    8 – ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE is scrawled in blood red lettering on the side of the Chemical Bank near the corner of Eleventh and First and is in print large enough to be seen from the backseat of the cab as it lurches forward in the traffic leaving Wall Street and just as Timothy Price notices the words a bus pulls up, the advertisement for Les Miserables on its side blocking his view, but Price who is with Pierce & Pierce and twenty-six doesn’t seem to care because he tells the driver he will give him five dollars to turn up the radio, “Be My Baby” on WYNN, and the driver, black, not American, does so.
    9 – She wondered why she was afraid to go home.
    10 – The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.
    Many of these are pretty obvious. I made my choices for first lines based more on whether on how tonally they set the scene and encapsulated the story to come rather than my particular preference of story. Hence them not being my top 10 per se. Exceptions include 3, 5, and 9, which I chose mainly due to their handiness though I like the books very much.
    If no one gets 10 on this circle of readers I will sigh heavily in everyone’s direction.

  6. Josh

    I wonder. I certainly thought I signed my name, but I’m forgetful enough not to do so at times.

  7. JSpur

    Here’s mine:
    1. The candleflame and the image of the candleflame caught in the pierglass twisted and righted when he entered the hall and again when he shut the door.
    2. Casson woke in a room in a cheap hotel and smoked his last cigarette.
    3. When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake- not a very big one.
    4. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
    5. See the child.
    6. He lay flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.
    7. Now she sits alone and remembers.
    8. She wasn’t even much of a beauty, wasn’t possessed herself of the manner of features and accoutrements and contours that a fellow might conjure up and savor.
    9. It was five o’clock in the afternoon Eastern Standard Time when the telephone rang in my house on Sullivans Island, South Carolina.
    10. This was the year he rode the subway to the ends of the city, two hundred miles of track.

  8. Mason

    AG: Actually, another (I suppose more relevant) aspect of the laziness I was mentioning was that I didn’t really want to wrack my brain for precisely which books and stories I would list. Shogun is definitely on my list as well, and it might not be the only Clavell book on it. (Noble House might also make it.)
    Josh: I know exactly which story (not full novel) #10 is. I’m not so good at remembering first lines off the type of my head, but that is indeed a gimme. (I just looked at a certain short story collection that is in my backpack right now and confirmed it.) Summer Fun Cthulhu approves! (Actually, the only Lovecraft story I’d consider putting on my list is “The Dunwich Horror.” I didn’t find “The Call of Cthulhu” to be all that great as a story.) I just finished “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” this morning. The ending is awesome, and it makes a certain parallel with Shaun of the Dead even better.
    Well, let me give the line for one other book that I feel morally bound to put on my list: “LaTeX is not just a system for typesetting mathematics.”

  9. Josh

    JSpur –
    Sadly, all I know is #3 – Lonesome Dove – Larry McMurtry
    All I know besides that is that Cormac McCarthy is somewhere on that list, perhaps more than once. But I don’t know his writing well enough to hazard any guesses.
    Mason – Call is one of my favorites based on the merit that it was the first that I read, which happens to me a lot, particularly in music. The first song I hear by a band will become one of my favorites on the memory of it. That being said, I think I like the Dunwich Horror better on objective merit as well.
    Small bit of trivia: Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” was inspired by “The Shadow over Innsmouth”.
    Obvious bit of Trivia: Metallica’s “The Call of Ktulu” was… well, I don’t have to finish that sentence.

  10. Josh

    Other gimmes I considered throwing in:
    “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore.”
    “Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York; And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house in the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
    “Rorschach’s journal: Octobor 12, 1985.” (Can’t get much more obvious than that one.)

  11. JSpur

    Josh- McCarthy does indeed appear twice. Mine are not arranged in the order of the writer’s surnames, just in come-to-mind order.

  12. Mason

    Josh: I’ll have to download that other Metallica song. I’m not particularly a fan of the group, but I obviously should listen to a song inspired by a story I really like.
    In general, I agree with your point about first stories (and I can echo this for first songs—it probably is even truer for me for songs than for stories), but I am discounting it in this case because in some respects my read of “Call…” was a bit of a letdown. It was ok but nothing special, so I’m very glad I didn’t just read the story online but instead bought a collection and made a point to give Lovecraft more of a chance. (I partly bought it to get further background for actual gaming—given that I knew he was but until about 5 years ago I had never actually read any of his stuff.) Had I discovered “Call…” differently — without hype and without making it a point to read that story first — then the same might well have been true for me.

  13. Josh

    Mason – I agree, Call of Cthulu was so built up the subculture that when I finally read it a couple of years ago, I was originally disappointed. Going back and giving it a second chance this year, when I started reading through the entire book of Lovecraft’s short stories, I ended up liking it a lot more from losing the expectations I originally had.

  14. Arcane Gazebo

    I can get some authors but not the corresponding stories. On Josh’s list, #4 sounds like Mishima and #6 must be Poe. I’m guessing #8 is American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
    On JSpur’s list, Faulkner must appear somewhere. I’m guessing he’s the author of #4.

  15. JSpur

    And since Josh guessed that McCarthy penned #1, I will go ahead and say the book was, inevitably, ALL THE PRETTY HORSES.

  16. Mason

    Was the movie All the Pretty Horses based on that?
    I never read the book in question, but the movie was awful. That was one of the worst movie choices I ever made, but in terms of craptacularity (craptacularness?), it doesn’t hold a jockstrap to Darkest Night (or Darkest Knight or something) or Death Becomes Her. [[Shudder]]

  17. JSpur

    Mason, the movie was indeed based on the book but it failed monumentally to do the book justice. Not that any movie really could.

  18. Josh

    In the interests of disclosure, here’s the full answer key to my list:
    1 – A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES – John Kennedy Toole (Jspur)
    2 – THREE KINGDOMS – Luo Guanzhong
    3 – THE ELFSTONES OF SHANNARA – Terry Brooks
    4 – PATRIOTISM – Yukio Mishima (ArcaneGazebo)
    5 – ENDER’S GAME – Orson Scott Card
    6 – THE TELL-TALE HEART – Edgar Allen Poe (ArcaneGazebo)
    7 – MACBETH – William Shakespeare
    8 – AMERICAN PSYCHO – Brett Easton Ellis (Arcane Gazebo)
    10 – THE CALL OF CTHULU – H.P. Lovecraft (Mason)
    Of all of these, I think the three opening sentences I find the most powerful are Three Kingdoms, Macbeth, and the Tell-Tale Heart. I’m totally engrossed at the beginning, and they encapture a huge amount of the story that is ahead for the reader. I also like Black Sun Rising’s opening, which is also the first paragraph, and I’m planning on rereading the book and seeing how thematically that sentence relates to the character of Ciani. For Lovecraft, his ideas and imagery leave me speechless but his prose tends to leave me sleeping, so while I love that first sentence, I still don’t feel as engaged as I could.
    Mishima and Ellis are a bit overlong for my taste, and the gold for Mishima for me is the absolutely gorgeous prose he can write when he gets artistic about things. This first sentence is more direct and to the point. When he describes the actual committing of seppuku by the main character and his wife, it’s amazingly beautiful writing. For Ellis, the first sentence is an accurate depiction of the tone the book is going to take, but like the book itself, it doesn’t necessarily increase my heart rate 100% of the time.
    That leaves three. For Ender’s Game and Elfstones, these are pretty standard opening depictions for sci-fi/fantasy worlds. I love the books themselves, and they’ve inspired a lot of my taste for the genres, but I’m not left speechless by the opening.
    Confederacy of Dunces has one of the best openings to a book I’ve ever read, but not in the first sentence. The first paragraph description of Ignatius is what grips me totally and brings me into the opening chapter which is nothing short of amazing. I’m not a person who reads in the car or can concentrate on reading when there are distractions around, but I remember in a bored way opening up the book driving around touring colleges and I did not want to get out of the car when we stopped. I just kept on reading.

  19. Arcane Gazebo

    The sad thing is I almost guessed your #2 and #7, but convinced myself I was wrong. And I’ve read 3, 5, and 9 but didn’t come close to recognizing them from the first lines.
    I’ll probably post my answers soon; I wanted to leave it up long enough for the weekday visitors to have a shot.

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