We all know that in life, one is not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But those of us who write novels know all too well that people do, in fact, judge books by their covers. In fact, the cover your book gets could translate into major (or really, really bad) sales.
But not me. I don’t judge books by their covers (in life or in the bookstore). For me it’s all about the first line of a book. Ever since I can remember, I’d just pick up a book and read the first line. If the first line didn’t do it for me, chances are I’d put the book back on the shelf.
I think it all started in the eighth grade when I read Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” I can’t think of a better first line for a book. I was immediately engaged.
I was later entranced by Elinor Lipman in her book, The Inn at Lake Devine. “It was not complicated, and, as my mother pointed out, not even personal: They had a hotel; they didn’t want Jews; we were Jews.” Isn’t that a story you want to hear more about?!
And then, there is Jay McInerney’s second person Bright Lights, Big City: “You are not the kind of guy who would be at a place like this at this time of the morning.” I immediately thought to myself: I’m not? Well, then, who am I? I couldn’t read the rest of the book fast enough.
Or Emily Giffin’s powerful opener for Something Blue: “I was born beautiful.” That one always knocks me out. Immediately sets the voice for the entire book with that tiny little sentence.
Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”
Covers are great, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the first lines that suck me in. I remember them; they stay with me long after I’ve finished the book. I often go back to my favorites and re-read them to figure out just what made them so magical for me.