Book trivia and first lines of my Top 15 Faves

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You never know when book trivia is going to come up in conversation. I was once asked at a job interview to recite the first line of Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I pulled that line out of nowhere (“Call me Ishmael.”) and, although I didn’t get the job, I had a moment of victory.

That’s the thing about trivia, isn’t it? It’s seemingly useless information that comes in handy at unexpected times.

I was thinking about that yesterday and decided I’d better brush up on my favorite books. Here are the first lines of my Top 15 Faves:


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“At dusk they pour from the sky.”

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

“First the colors. Then the humans. That’s usually how I see things. Or at least, how I try.”

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

“In the late summer of that year we lived in a house in a village that looked across the river and the plain to the mountains.”

Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

“Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.”

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

“To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.”

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.”

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

“The village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call ‘out there.’”

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

“There is nothing in the world more perfect than a slide rule.”

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

“From where I sit, the story of Arthur Less is not so bad.”

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

“A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the café.”

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

“We were in class when the head-master came in, followed by a ‘new fellow’ not wearing the school uniform and a school servant carrying large desk.”

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

“For many years Henry Kitteridge was a pharmacist in the next town over, driving every morning on snowy roads, or rainy roads, or summertime roads, when the wild raspberries shot their new growth in brambles along the last section of town before he turned off to where the wider road led to the pharmacy.”

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

“The morning burned so August-hot, the marsh’s moist breath hung the oaks and pines with fog.”

Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk

“Have you ever known a famous man before he became famous?


Do you remember the first lines of your favorite books?

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

28 thoughts on “Book trivia and first lines of my Top 15 Faves

  1. I don’t remember the first lines of any of my favorite books. I can remember some had very quote-worth lines, but I couldn’t tell you any of them. I think my brain is too full of useless information that gets in the way of remembering the good stuff sometimes, lol. Awesome selections, Barbara!

  2. What a great interview question! I assume that was for a position at a library. I love first lines of books. You’ve listed some great ones, Barb. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, but now you’ve got me wanting to read To Kill a Mockingbird again!

    1. Haha – actually it was for a job as a financial analyst. I’m not sure why he asked me that, but it’s possible we were talking about me majoring in English in college. It was so long ago, I’m glad I never took that path! Thanks for visiting 🙂

  3. “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” My favourite first line from my favourite book. You have listed some very good ones here.

  4. Great first lines, Barbara and well done for remembering the first line to Moby Dick … I would have been at a loss and totally tongue-tied! Your post is a good reminder never to rush over those all-important first lines of a book!

    1. Hi Annika – it’s really interesting to go back to the first lines – they tell more about the books than you realize, once you know what they refer to. Thanks for visiting and commenting. Hope you are doing well across the ocean 🙂

    1. Hi LA – yes I’m a keeper of random quotes and information. I have quite an inventory in my mind. I didn’t remember most of these – definitely had to look them up. Thanks for visiting!

  5. Cool post. Now I will test the librarian with my two favorite opening lines and see if you know the books:
    1 – “Maman died today.”
    2 – “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”
    (confession – I only remembered half of number 2, but I think that still qualifies me – LOL)

  6. I’m flabbergasted that you could pull “Call me Ishmael” from thin air during a tense job interview. I remember the line from Pride and Prejudice Darlene cited, and Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” from A Tale of Two Cities.

    When I read a really good book, like Where the Crawdads Sing, I make notes of quotes I like, not usually the first lines. Great post, Barbara!

  7. Such an enjoyable post, thank you. Here’s a first line I rather like: ‘Rachel was woken by a painting or, rather, by the idea of one.” It’s from Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale.

    1. Haha! Actually it was for a job as a financial analyst – I can’t remember why Moby Dick came up. The interviewer may have seen that I majored in English undergrad. So long ago – ancient history!

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