First lines

March 31, 2008

Do you know one of the things I like about the Bible? I like how certain beautiful phrases come up over and over again in church and in our our cultural vocabulary. As a Congregationalist/UCC-er, I’m not hung up on whether or not this kind of appreciation cheapens the spirituality of the text–we are pretty clear on the fact that God didn’t write it, human beings did, and so we believe it draws its power from being the collected wisdom of human life pressed into literary form. They are beautiful and meaningful because they are human, not despite.

That was kind of a roundabout way of introducing how I felt when I ran across this list of 100 best first lines of novels this morning, here in text form and here in graphic form (provided by one of my favorite librarian bloggers). We all know that 100 best lists are always arbitrary and stupid, but I still think this a good collection of reasons why I am a writer and a student of literature. I love the ring and permanence of these sentences, and I love remembering the world they invited me into. I like saying them under my breath as I sometimes say snippets of biblical verse. They are a little like prayers.

So how lovely that the scripture lesson begins with a reading from the book of Melville:

1) Call me Ishmael.

And continues.


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