Library of First Lines

I’m tripping over novels again.

I confess: I took one, but didn’t leave one, at Little Free Libraries everywhere, kind of a lot.
Add to that the many $5 all-you-can-stuff paper grocery bags full of books with eye-catching covers & persuasive blurbs, hauled home from Friends of the Beaverton Library book & media sales. (Do NOT let me go to the one happening this weekend. Don’t picture me this Sunday, arriving home with another 50 pounds of books. No, I said: don’t.)

Funny, despite mounting stacks of novels—around the bed, atop table surfaces and the floor, edging out in a tall pile from the couch as if an extension of the couch itself—the books I actually finish reading are usually checked out from the county library. Borrowed; to be given back. There’s something about a due date that makes me jealously finish four Ruth Ware novels in a row, none of which I own. Meanwhile, Care of Wooden Floors by Will Wiles, whose cover I can’t stop looking at and touching, because it’s designed to look like a wooden floor, hasn’t inspired a sense of urgency to read it since the day I brought it home.

To be honest I think I judged some of these books by their covers. But even if I love the covers, I cannot read every novel, and I certainly can’t house every novel. I simply cannot. I know this, at least up here [taps head]. It is like with pets. There is a limit.

So I’m starting over fresh, airing out my bookshelves & vacuuming the dust, letting these books out to find their readers. In the future I’ll take novels in one at a time. And back out it goes. I think that’ll have to be my policy. And I hear e-readers are good. I’ll probably always hold a romantic notion that I’ll someday devote an entire room of my home to being a library. But it’s equally romantic to imagine not spending two hours on light rail going to the nearest Ikea, then being up till 2am screwing together yet another particle board bookshelf. I could have been curled up on the couch, actually reading, instead.

But before I release these lovely books back into the wild, I thought it might make me feel better—as if this collection had served some purpose after all—if I paid homage to each book, if I memorialized its once-presence on my floor, packed shelves, or beside the tub, as a remembered piece of that library I once collected that turned out to be one library too many (“for the space,” as they say).

I’m always curious to see what other authors end up with as first lines. So—that’s it: this will be my library of first lines, and a goodbye-for-now to each of these novels, until I check it out from the library—to actually read—someday.

Keep in mind (in case any of these should embarrass me to have had in my house): this is not a list of recommended novels; it can’t be, since I failed in my mission to read them. Many I don’t remember choosing, or when. Many are probably amazing stories. I bet they are! But that is exactly how I talked myself into keeping so many in the first place…

I’ll update* this post as I go through each heavy pile—the books are mostly hardbacks! In fact, I’ll note if they’re paperback, in case I for some reason want that data later (meh, doubtful).

Enjoy your newfound freedom, novels!

Little book house with glass door reflecting sunset
Maybe instead of a whole room, I’ll settle for one day hosting my own Little Free Library.

*Library of First Lines last updated: 10/27/2019

* * *

NF’s Library of First Lines

in no particular order

Front book cover for Care of Wooden Floors, printed in a wood-grain floor design.

Care of Wooden Floors, a novel by Will Wiles (2012):

“People are afraid of flying.”

In The Unlikely Event, a novel by Judy Blume (2015):

“Even now she can’t decide.”

The Plover, a novel by Brian Doyle (2014):

“West and then west for weeks and weeks or months and months sweet Jesus knows how long.”

The Devil Wears Prada, a novel (paperback) by Lauren Weisberger (2003):

“The light hadn’t even officially turned green at the intersection of 17th and Broadway before an army of overconfident yellow cabs roared past the tiny deathtrap I was attempting to navigate around the city streets.”

The Weird Sisters, a novel (paperback) by Eleanor Brown (2011):

“We came home because we were failures.”

With Intent to Kill, a mystery by Dell Shannon (1972):

“Mendoza woke abruptly.”

V is for Vengeance, a mystery by Sue Grafton (2011):

“Phillip Lanahan drove to Vegas in his 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet, a snappy little red car his parents had given him two months before, when he graduated from Princeton.”

Freedom, a novel by Jonathan Franzen (2010):

“The news about Walter Berglund wasn’t picked up locally—he and Patty had moved away to Washington two years earlier and meant nothing to St. Paul now—but the urban gentry of Ramsey Hill were not so loyal to their city as not to read the New York Times.”

Note on Freedom: This long-ass novel I did read. More on that later.

Carnivore Diet, a novel by Julia Slavin (2005):

“My years were the cartoon’s best, and I’m not bragging.”

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a novel (autographed) by Robin Sloan (2012):

“Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder.”

Note on Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore: this novel’s cover has displeased me ever since it ended up in the stack by my bed, this because it has some yellow material on it that glows in the dark. But I never remembered to move it in the morning.

Cover of an Object of Beauty by Steve Martin, color-filled lettering on oil canvas-like paperAn Object of Beauty, a novel by Steve Martin (2010):

“I am tired, so very tired of thinking about Lacey Yeager, yet I worry that unless I write her story down, and see it bound and tidy on my bookshelf, I will be unable to ever write about anything else.”

Note on An Object of Beauty: this is another novel I hate to part with due to the cover and interior design of the book. I love looking at it, and it cleverly feels like an oil canvas, for painting. I made it to page 63, judging by the clean slip of toilet paper being used as a bookmark, at which point I must have started also reading a library book with a deadline that took precedence—I think that book may have been Presumed Innocent, by Scott Turow.

The Magician’s Wife, a novel by Brian Moore (1997):

“The colonel left the house at five o’clock.”

The Paris Wife, a novel (paperback) by Paula McLain (2011):

“Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for Paris.”

Note on The Paris Wife: I’ve been curious to read The Paris Wife ever since discovering it mentioned (I thought, cattily?) in a John Grisham novel, which I bought to read in similar fashion to this blogger (drawn in by a mention of Portland State), albeit in my case I was at the PDX airport, desperate for reading material which—despite having volumes & volumes of at home—I’d neglected to bring on the trip. Alas, The Paris Wife too must go. If I let one novel stay, I’d have to let them all stay.

Still Life With Bread Crumbs, a novel by Anna Quindlen (2014):

“A few minutes after two in the morning Rebecca Winter woke up to the sound of a gunshot and sat up in bed.”

The Witness, a novel by Nora Roberts (2012):

“Elizabeth Fitch’s short-lived teenage rebellion began with L’Oréal Pure Black, a pair of scissors and a fake ID.”

The Paris Wife, a novel by Paula McLain (2011):

“Though I often looked for one, I finally had to admit that there could be no cure for…” hey wait a minute.

Note: So I had two copies of The Paris Wife, a hardback and a paperback. No wonder my bookshelves are overflowing. Good thing I’m doing this project!Front cover of Ann Patchett's novel State of Wonder

State of Wonder, a novel by Ann Patchett (2011):

“The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.”

We Are Not Ourselves, a novel by Matthew Thomas (2014)

“His father was watching the line in the water.”

Big Hair and Flying Cows, a novel by Dolores J. Wilson (2004)

“‘Bertie,’ my father yelled from the doorway between his office and the hot garage.”

The Disorder of Longing, a novel by Natasha Bauman (2008)

“It was officially spring, yet the sun had been stingy, staying hidden away for weeks.”

The Body Artist, a novel by Don DeLillo (2001)

“Time seems to pass.”

Note: I might actually keep & read this one. Like, if I allow myself to keep one novel from my outgoing piles, to start reading now, The Body Artist is a contender. That’s in part because I’ve read DeLillo before, his novel White Noise. And I feel partly guilty, partly concerned, that I remember almost nothing from that novel, except something about freeway noise (working as a metaphor, but literal too). Granted, it was my first term of grad school & I had kind of a lot going on that term, not to mention I’d overloaded myself with heavy duty reading for a bunch of other classes such that there was no “taking one’s time” with any reading. I also remember struggling to write my first (or one of the first) 10-page grad school papers (or was it the first final term paper?) on that novel, for the lit class I was reading it in called Illness & Culture. Wow, the more I think about it, maybe all of that was kind of DeLillo’s whole point. He’s right about one thing: time sure does seem to pass.

10/25/2019 Update: Welp I read this. Was a super quick read. It was in many ways the opposite of the novel I’d read just previously, Freedom. In length, style of prose, outcome. At one point I thought, “an unknown novelist would never get away with this.”

Murder On the Potomac, a 1994 mystery by Margaret Truman (or is it by Margaret Truman?)
“When Mackensie Smith closed his criminal-law practice to teach law at George Washington University, he vowed to find time to smell the proverbial roses.”

The Language of Flowers, a novel by Vanessa Diffenbaug (2011)
“For eight years I dreamed of fire.”

The Little Girl Who Was Too Fond of Matches, a novel by Gaétan Soucy (1998)
“We had to take the universe in hand, my brother and I, for one morning just before dawn papa gave up the ghost without a by-your-leave.”

The Fig Eater, a novel (paperback) by Jody Shields (2000)
“He stands up next to the girl’s body.”

The Alternative Hero, a novel by Tim Thornton (2009)
“You know how it is sometimes.”

War and Peace, a novel by Leo Tolstoy (1992 Barnes & Noble classics edition, originally published in 1869 & prior to that, serially)
“For thirteen years, off and on, there has been war in Europe; but now, in 1805, there is an uneasy peace.” But The Project Gutenberg EBook version goes: “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”

Do With Me What You Will, a novel by Joyce Carol Oates (1973)
“Premeditated crime: the longer the meditation, the dreaming, the more triumphant the execution!”

Note: I made it to page 121 of this novel, judging by the Marika Sculpt Your Attitude activewear tag bookmark. Oh to be as prolific as Ms. Oates, right?

The Rat, a novel by Günter Grass (1986)
“Chapter one, in which a wish comes true, there is no room for rats in Noah’s ark, nothing is left of man but garbage, a ship changes its name frequently, the saurians die out, an old friend turns up, a postcard brings an invitation to Poland, the upright posture is practiced, and knitting needles click, vigorously. At Christmas I wished for a rat, in the hope, no doubt, of stimulus words for a poem about the education of the human race.”

Her Native Colors, a novel by Elisabeth Hyde (1986)
“Phoebe Martin chose a bad time to tell her ex-husband Rusty that she was taking their son Andrew back East for two weeks.”

Hardcore Twenty-Four, a novel by Janet Evanovich (2017)
“Simon Diggery and Ethel, his pet boa constrictor, were about fifty feet from Simon’s rust bucket double-wide.”

What Was Lost, a novel (paperback) by Catherine O’Flynn (2007)
“Crime was out there.”

The Third Angel, a novel by Alice Hoffman (2008)
“Madeline Heller knew she was reckless.”

Emily’s Ghost, a novel by Denise Giardina (2009)
“Emily Brontë got on with her life as before, except she caught cold more easily.”



— To be continued —

A snowy yard with a Free Book Library stand

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