Today at lunch someone was telling me about all the entrance exams required to enter a Ph.D. program in English. Golly. I have never even heard of one of these tests (not having considering working on a Ph.D. in English myself.) It’s some sort of literature exam and part of it is a section where you must match up the first lines of classic books to their authors.
Okay, how many first lines of books do you actually remember? I came to realize today that I don’t remember very many. The first I thought of was “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.” I’m sure everyone recognizes that as the first line of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It was a fabulous book, and an even better movie by Alfred Hitchcock.
Hmm…what else? “They call me Ishmael.” Moby Dick by Herman Melville. Although, the truth is I’ve never actually read that book.
Other famous first lines….*crickets*…. Oh wait, I’ve got one: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
That’s it. That’s all I can think of. Now in all humility I am a well-read person. I have read all kinds of classic literature and all kinds of schlock. I read a lot. I love it, but not that many first lines have stuck in my mind. So just how important is a first line? I suppose that depends upon whom you ask. Personally I am willing to give a book at least a page or two or 30 before I give up and put it down for good, especially if it was recommended by someone I know, but most really good books will grab me within a page or two.
One day last week I got up and took a shower and was about half-way through my first cup of coffee when suddenly my cell phone rang. I though, Okay, here we go. I saw who it was and said, “Hello.” I was countered with an uncharacteristically perky voice which said, “Good morning! How are you this morning?” So I responded as perky as I could muster, “I’m great! How are you?” Then she said, “I’m fine! I’m going to put you on speaker phone if that’s okay.”
If you know me at all, you know that I am not a morning person. I can function – more or less – in the morning, but it is not my best or most productive time of the day. In an emergency I’m immediately filled with adrenaline and function quite well, until it wears off, but generally speaking, is it a good idea to put me on speaker phone before I have finished my first cup of coffee? I’m going to have to say no, in fact that would probably be ill-advised. Nevertheless I agreed.
That’s when I found out that she wanted to ask me a question on behalf of her class. The question was: Would this first sentence make you want to read the rest of the essay? Okay. So she read the sentence to me and my first thought was that I wasn’t sure what the sentence meant. (Did I mention I hadn’t even finished my first cup of coffee?) But there was something interesting in this sentence about stuffing people full of spiritual goodness. That is not at all a direct quote. I don’t remember exactly what the sentence was, but yes, I was intrigued enough to want to read further.
Okay, that’s all they wanted to know. Good-bye. You know, I’m still not completely sure all that actually happened. I think it did.
Anyway, today’s lesson is a small piece of one of my favorites. Romans 8: 31-34. That’s the that asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” The obvious answer is that sometimes there are lots of people against us. The point is that if God is for us, it doesn’t matter who is against us. After all, God is the one who in the beginning created the heavens and the earth.
Feel free to call and get my opinion on first lines of the essay or novel you are writing. I’m also pretty good at titles for other people’s books, and I’ll be happy to read your manuscript if you are willing to hear my honest opinion.
But it’s better to wait until after I’ve finished my first cup of coffee.