It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: A Top Ten List

Best opening lines.

I’m going to spare you the traditional list of best opening lines. We all know them. You’ll find this week’s list devoid of Lolita (one of the best opening lines, ever), Pride and Prejudice, Moby-Dick, Rebecca, and Charles Dickens (most people cite A Tale of Two Cities as the best, I maintain it’s A Christmas Carol). Admittedly, The Catcher and the Rye is not the most original of choices, but I couldn’t resist including it. As you may have come to expect from me, I also managed to squeeze in Stephen King and Iain M. Banks.

First Lines
Bonus: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

In no particular order (as hosted by The Broke and The Bookish):

10. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert, when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive….” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about a hundred miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?” Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

9. 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. The Catcher and the Rye by J. D. Salinger. Every time I think about Holden Caulfield I can’t help but think of Nirvana and the line ‘hey, wait / I’ve got a new complaint’.

8. It was the day my grandmother exploded. Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road

7. 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. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene Admittedly I’m fonder of his non-Catholic books, but I did like the beginning of this one (and the ending is also very good).

6. It began as a mistake. Post Office by Charles Bukowski. Doesn’t it always?

5. Either forswear fucking others or the affair is over. Sabbath’s Theater by Philip Roth. Agreed, Mr. Roth, agreed.

4. You’ve been here before. Needful Things by Stephen King. Straight to the point, yet mysterious – I like it.

3. Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk. Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis. I don’t care that Elmer Gantry was drunk, but I love that he was eloquently and lovingly drunk (as all states of drunkenness should be).

2. Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living. 2001 – A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke.

1. If you’re going to read this, don’t bother. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. This appeals to every bit of my contrary nature.

So…favorite opening lines?

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43 thoughts on “It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: A Top Ten List

  1. Great collection of opening lines 🙂 Been meaning to get around to 2001 – A Space Odyssey; that opening is intriguing & chilling! And the rest of Graham Greene’s books; I’ve only read The Power and the Glory. And Iain Banks’ books–that opening definitely caught my attention! lol

    My TTT


    1. Thanks!

      How can you really top a grandmother exploding? I really loved Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. It’s one of my favorite books. I mostly enjoyed The End of the Affair, the first and last lines are beautiful.


    1. Thanks. I felt like doing something different. Yes, that Pride and Prejudice opening is great, but everyone already knows it’s great. I felt like sharing a few that people might not know.


  2. these are great, unboring (re: expected) quotes. i do like the Catcher in the Rye quote, though I didn’t like the book.


      1. When I was in high school, I liked it solely because I didn’t feel like I was translating from Old English like everything else we had to read. When I read it again as an adult… eh.


    1. It is! I generally find that book to be on the whiny side of things, but it opens with a line that I can’t help but agree with. I feel that way all the time. #6 might be my favorite on the list, so many things start that way (some of the best things, too).


    1. I’m generally always happy while drinking (which is actually not that often), so I agree. I’ve never really understood mean drinking. Why? Is that really the reaction it brings out?


    1. I seriously considered that one, but it fell under the great book opening of all time that everyone already knows. But if I’d thought about it, I probably would’ve realized that only other Stephen King fans would know it…

      At any rate, good choice.


    1. It’s ridiculous to miss a person you don’t know, but I am really going to miss Iain Banks – mostly for all the novels he will now never publish. The Crow Road is worth it. Definitely. My next read will have to be something literary. I need a palate cleanse and a mental break from the angst of On Every Street.


      1. I’ve got The Crow Road and The Wasp Factory on my TBR. I’ve heard TWF is super twisted so naturally I’m on board. You should read The Thicket! Really interested to see what you think of it.


      2. Frank in The Wasp Factory ranks as one of the most twisted, unhinged characters I’ve ever read. And for me, that’s saying a lot. I’ll be curious to know what you think.

        I did love Edge of Dark Water, so I should probably start The Thicket. I’m bound to be pleased. I’m getting more and more worried about Shooting Scars. The only thing I can say (and pardon the language), is don’t fuck up a good thing. I’m very worried that the good things are going to bite the dust until book three. Sometimes series are the bane of my existence…

        Did you see that Woodrell has a new one coming out as well (in September)? I’m excited for that one too, though I don’t have an ARC.


    2. That is saying something. I’ve heard the same thing about the dude from American Psycho. Want to read that too.

      Yeah, there’s just something special or at least different in Sins & Needles and I wonder if since she’s got more of a following and a legit contract with a publisher if she’s chosen to taken it a more expected and traditional route. I don’t know, I’m excited for it but then again I’m not. I’ll still read it of course because I’m a glutton for punishment.

      The new Woodrell book is my WoW Pick today! I really like the sound of it. Will likely get around to his Bayou Trilogy first though since I already own it. 🙂


      1. Ugh, of all the disturbing scenes in American Psycho, perhaps the one that has stuck with me the longest is the Godiva chocolate scene – you’ll know it when you read it.

        I know what you mean, she’s never been much for love triangles before and now that there’s a book contract – lo and behold – there is one. It one thing when two guys are appealing, but Javier is seriously disturbed. I know she took a lot of flack for making Ellie a con artist. But a con artist is not comparable to a cold blooded killer. That’s just not something I could be attracted to (and obviously I’m not considering how much I’m whining about the story line).

        The new Woodrell is super short. I know that’s not something to look forward to considering how great a writer he is, but sometimes it’s nice not to be reading a doorstop.


  3. “It began as a mistake” is a fabulous opening. Fabulous opening line for a song, too. One of my fave tunes off the Angus soundtrack starts just that way. And now I’m mentally rocking out.


      1. “Enough is Enough” and I can’t remember the band. It’s very peppy and delightful though. It’s a jump on the bed and sing out your frustrations kind of song.


      2. Dance Hall Crashers – Enough. Not bad, reminds me of early No Doubt.

        I’m trying to picture myself jumping on the bed and singing out my frustrations…can’t do it. I’m too subdued.


  4. One of my favorites is from The Easter Parade by Richard Yates. Great novel and the opening sets up everything perfectly: “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life, and looking back it always seemed that the trouble began with their parents’ divorce.”


    1. Funny you should bring up that specific book. Last week, a friend and I were discussing how great the vintage classic covers of Yates’ books are (specifically The Easter Parade, this one here: The cover gives you absolutely no idea what the novel is truly about, but yet it is absolutely wonderful in its own right.

      At any rate, I happen to agree that the opening line of The Easter Parade is excellent.


      1. Thanks for pointing me to that cover. I hadn’t seen the Vintage designs before and that one surely is misleading. But with that said, I really like the Vintage designs now that I’ve seen them. I remember my copy being quite dull.


  5. Surprised you did not pick the first line in the Gunslinger. I hear that is a line that is actually studied. Though Needful Things is good too! 🙂


    1. That would be why I didn’t pick it. I think it’s amazing and wonderful, but it is also already famous as one of King’s best opening lines (and, in general, one of fiction’s great opening lines).

      No one ever talks about Needful Things, so I decided to share that one instead. Plus, I’m about halfway through Needful Things right now and it was on my mind.


  6. I love H2G2–opening lines, and many lines within. That whole series is very quotable. This is the second time I’ve seen the exploding grandma quote, and I have to admit I’m a bit curious.


    1. Agreed. I think my personal favorite (though I could not find a corresponding image) is “The story so far:
      In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” from The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

      I like the exploding grandma quote (of course). You just have to wonder where it could go from there…


    1. I liked the book, but didn’t love the end. As for the miniseries, don’t get me started…

      In all seriousness though, it’s a mediocre adaptation. They seriously changed some things that I felt we’re integral to the book. SK books are so hard to translate into film…


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