I can get lost in a bookstore for hours. Truly. As I’m browsing, I might initially “choose” a book because of the cover art: whether it is a neon orange or has some gorgeous graphics. Maybe the title catches my eye. But what makes me want to purchase the book is the book description, and the first paragraph of Chapter 1. Am I interested enough to continue reading?
Below are some first paragraphs that evoke some heightened emotion or sense, are visual or mysterious, and well-written:
The minute I saw the letter, I knew it was hers. There was no mistaking it: the salutation, the tiny, precise handwriting, the date, the content itself, all confirmed its ancient status and authorship. – Syrie James, The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen
Before I’d left the book sale, I’d already read most of Chapter 1. I finished the book in less than 48 hours.
Marlene Barnett clung to the handlebars of her bicycle and pedaled furiously along the coast road. She’d overslept that morning and had woken up to the sound of rain peppering her bedroom window. By the time she’d gone downstairs, Polly had already left for the Manor House. – Kate Kingsbury, Paint by Murder
What is at Manor House? Is Polly Marlene’s ride? And the image of Marlene pedaling, while it is still presumably raining, makes me imagine her as rain-soaked and miserable, head tucked down, trying to avoid the weather.
The clop and roar of the train was an uneasy element somewhere at the back of the tall man’s dreams. It would die away – die away and fantastic hurrying faces come up to claim his attention. He would think “I am sure I am asleep. This is certainly a dream.” Then came a jolt as they roared, with a sudden increase of racket, over a bridge and through a cutting. The fantastic faces disappeared. He was cold and stiff. For the hundredth time he opened his eyes to see the dim carriage-lamps and the rows of faces with their murky high-lights and cadaverous shadows. -Ngaio Marsh, Vintage Murder
The train is loud, he is uncomfortable, and he cannot sleep restfully. The row of faces with their cadaverous shadows really paints a picture for the reader.
I, Hassan Haji, was born, the second of six children, above my grandfather’s restaurant on the Napean Sea Road in what was then called West Bombay, two decades before the great city was renamed Mumbai. I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents’ room above the restaurant. To this day I can recall the sensation of those cot bars pressed up coldly against my toddler’s face, my nose poked out as far as possible and searching for air for that aromatic packet of cardamom, fish heads, and palm oil, which, even at that young age, somehow suggested there were unfathomable riches to be discovered and savored in the free world beyond. -Richard Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey
I read this and I’m hungry. “Pressed up coldly” is certainly descriptive, as is his mentioning fish heads, cardamom, and machli ka salan. I want to know more about Hassan, his childhood, and his food discoveries.
Nothing is worse than having a nice sex fantasy interrupted by the memory of a murder. Well, she just wouldn’t let it happen again. Stretching out her stiff back, she felt the skin tighten between her shoulder blades. Time to turn over. No need to get a sunburn; her nervous breakdown would be trouble enough. And that’s what would happen if she didn’t start sleeping through the night or begin relaxing during the day. But, lying on her back and squinting into the glare of the sun, another memory pushed aside her most delicious fantasy, and instead of Robert Redford’s neck, instead of Paul Newman’s eyes, instead of Harrison Ford’s shoulders, she saw a woman’s hands. They were well-manicured and were clutching at a strand of matched pearls circling an unlined neck, wiping away the spittle of saliva drooling from crimson lips….. – Valerie Wolzien, Murder at the PTA Luncheon
So much for sunbathing! Who is that woman clutching pearls?
A woman is sitting before an art nouveau vanity, brushing her hair in the mirror. It is, at least according to the police report, somewhere between midnight and three in the morning, on the first Tuesday of June 1955. For dinner she ate a small portion of an incredibly rich pasta – a fettuccini with pecorino cheese and great ladles of truffle oil – at a restaurant popular with wealthy American and British expatriates five blocks west of the Uffizi and a block north of the Arno. She was one of the few Italians there who weren’t part of the kitchen or wait staff. She has since bathed, soaping off both her own perfume and the cologne that was worn by her dinner companion – the fellow who had come back here to the apartment, made love with her on the thin bed no more than three feet from the vanity, and then left. He was a suspect in the murder investigation, but only briefly. If he had had even the slightest inclination to spend the evening, there is every chance that I would have executed him that night, too. – Chris Bohjalian, The Light in the Ruins
More than a bit creepy. Why did he kill her?
A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfit, Ignatius noted, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul. -John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces (Winner of Pulitzer Prize)
His descriptions are wonderful – fleshy balloon of a head, little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs, blue and yellow eyes.