Can You Identify These 15 Opening Lines from 15 Famous Authors?
How many will you get right?
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
That one, by the way, is the opener to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. There’s another Dickens novel in the group below. How many of them can you identify?
Hello, my name is…
“Call me Ishmael.”
An easy one to start. This is one of the best-known opening lines in all of literature, from Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.
But perhaps that was too easy. OK, no quotes with character names from now on!
More or less
“All this happened, more or less.”
Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse 5—also called The Children’s Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death—is an anti-war novel centering on the infamous firebombing of Dresden during WWII.
Tell the truth
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”
The roundabout sentence structure and the Victorian theme of marrying well are both big tip-offs that this is Jane Austen. But which one of her many novels is it? Perhaps her most famous one: Pride and Prejudice (the original, not the one with the zombies). These are the 10 books every teen should read before graduating high school.
Just one big unhappy family
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Considered by many to be the greatest work of literature, Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina follows a young couple in search of happiness. Spoiler alert: They don’t find it. Here are some of the best romance novels of all time.
Burn, baby, burn!
“It was a pleasure to burn.”
This might not seem like a lot to go on, but book-burning features prominently in Ray Bradbury’s great dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. Now you know the temperature at which paper catches fire. Find out why you love the smell of old books.
Can you keep a secret?
“You better not never tell nobody but God.”
This is from The Color Purple, Alice Walker’s epic tale of a poor, uneducated Black woman growing up in the American South. These are the most iconic books set in every state.
The cow goes, “moooo…”
“Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road.”
No, there isn’t any missing punctuation here. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce begins with a young Stephen Dedalus—who also appears in Joyce’s Ulysses—telling a story the way only a small child would.
I need a hero
“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show.”
And here’s the other Dickens! This one is David Copperfield, although the novel’s full title is The Personal History, Adventures, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery (Which He Never Meant to Publish on Any Account). Oh, Dickens. Check out 50 great book quotes from the most quotable books.
Well, now I want to hear about it!
“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.”
That’s a lot of words, but Holden Caulfield is a pretty long-winded guy. This is J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, considered one of the best coming-of-age books ever.
“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning.”
This is the perfect scene-setter, from the novel that launched one of the most beloved spies ever: James Bond, who first shows up in the second paragraph of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale. These 18 books are now hit movies.
What’s that about?
“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
A surprising first note for a children’s story—and not a promising way to start—though in Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White doesn’t shy away from the sadness that comes with befriending a pet whose life is sure to be short. How many of these best children’s books have you read?
Dark and stormy
“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
You’ve certainly heard this line before—at least the first part of it—even if you’ve never read Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton. By the way, here’s the correct way to pronounce these famous authors’ names.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”
This line launches you into 1984 by George Orwell, the book that introduced the world to the concept of Big Brother.
Bit by bit
“I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.”
This timeless truism kicks off the classic novel Ethan Frome, published in 1911 by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton. Here are 20 of the best books written by female authors.
Once upon a midnight dreary
“During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country.”
Nobody sets a spooky scene better than Edgar Allan Poe. He opens The Fall of the House of Usher with a mood he also memorably sets in the opening line of his epic poem The Raven: “Once upon a midnight dreary…”).