60 of the Most Famous Opening Lines of Books

They say the hardest thing about writing a book is the actual writing. Famous opening lines of books might seem like they were written off the cuff, but they are often planned and re-written by authors trying to find the perfect sentence.

Sitting down at the computer or typewriter and willing yourself to type is the biggest hurdle when it comes to writing. Once you have a few words down you are off to the races. A couple of words become sentences that lead to paragraphs and then chapters. Before you know it you have a New York Times best-seller on your hands (fingers crossed). For this reason, the opening lines of a book are very important. They set the scene and hook the reader in. The most famous opening lines of books written by top authors draw you in from the get-go and propel you into their world. 

Everyone from classic writers such as C.S. Lewis and Sylvia Plath to modern authors including Irvine Welsh and Andy Weir has written famous opening lines of books that are considered classics. There are thousands of books released every year but only a select few have opening lines that are memorable and talked about.

We’ve selected 60 of our favorite opening lines that help set the scene or utterly confuse the reader, depending on what the author has in mind. Some are short sentences while others consist of many lines. What they all have in common is how great they are. Enjoy. 

60 of the Most Famous Opening Lines of Books

beautiful woman reading book in a autumn forest

1. I’m pretty much fucked. – The Martian by Andy Weir

This opening line pretty much sums up the feelings you have while reading this one. How the hell is astronaut Mark Watney going to survive being left on Mars?

2. Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small, regarded yellow sun. – The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

An interesting way to start this science fiction epic from the great Douglas Adams. 

3. Call me Ishmael. – Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Who is Ishmael? Who or what is Moby Dick? Can someone please tell me what is going on?!

4. It was a pleasure to burn. – Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

A book about books being burnt states with a sentence about the pleasure of something being burnt. Makes sense. 

5. I am an invisible man. – Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Pretty much self-explanatory. 

6. It was a bright, cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. – 1984 by Geroge Orwell

This classic novel has an opening line that’s full of unnerving thoughts. 

7. Mother died today. Or maybe, yesterday; I can’t be sure. – The Outsider by Albert Camus

Another strange opener that makes you wonder how mother died. And did the narrator kill her? 

8. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. – Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy is a bit wordy for some, but this opening line is a bit of a head-scratcher that makes you want to find out more. 

9. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. – The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

There’s so much going on in this one line from the maestro Sylvia Plath. This tale about a college girl on the edge is a must-read. 

10. Once there were four children whose names were Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. This story is about something that happened to them when they were sent away from London during the war because of the air raids. – The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Ok, this is two lines, but both are needed for context. What happened to them? You’ll have to read this classic to find out. Or watch the TV show. Or the movie. 

11. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind since. Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages you’ve had. – The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald

These are wise words from the father of Gatsby’s neighbor. If more people knew there might not be as much hate in the world. 

12. Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. – Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston 

What’s your wish? 

13. We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson

If this line isn’t enough to get you on board this wild adventure with gonzo journalist Hunter S Thompson then nothing will. 

14. It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Truer words have never been spoken. Just make sure she’s not a gold digger or that good fortune might not last. 

15. You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy. – The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The opening line spoken by an abusive father to his daughter is a haunting piece of fiction that compels you to read on. 

16. 124 was spiteful. Full of Baby’s venom. – Beloved by Toni Morrison

An ominous warning kicks off this incredible Pulitzer Prize-winning book. 

17. This is my favorite book in all the world, though I never read it.  – The Princess Bride by William Goldman

If you’ve seen the movie you’ll love the book. 

18. It was the day my Grandmother exploded. – The Crow Road by Iain Banks

If this opening line doesn’t get you excited I don’t know what will!

19. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. – A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

This is one of the most well-known opening lines of any book. It sets the scene for what is to come. Possibly a bit wordy for some, but still a classic read. 

20. The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. – Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Depending on what part of the world you are from you might not understand many of the words in this sentence. Just that someone called Sick Boy is not doing so well. Maybe that’s why he’s called Sick Boy?

21. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect. – Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

Imagine waking up and finding out you’ve turned into an insect. This is the plot of Franz Kafka’s famous short story.  

22. Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. – Ulysses by James Joyce

This is one of the most important works of modern literature influenced by Homer’s The Odyssey.

23. 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, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. – The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger

You probably read this book as a kid and didn’t think much, but The Catcher in the Rye is actually an American classic worth giving another shot. 

24. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

This first line doesn’t give much information about Harry and his mates.

25. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. – The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway 

Another American classic about a man trying to catch a fish. It’s a lot more interesting than the synopsis suggests. 

26. Here is a small fact: You are going to die. – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

You can’t really deny this opening line. But what’s dying got to do with being a book thief? You’ll just have to give it a read to find out. 

27. All this happened, more or less. – Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

This semi-autobiographical war novel is an incredible look into life in the firing lines. 

28. All children, except one, grow up. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

It’s not hard to guess that child is Peter Pan. 

29. It was love at first sight. – Catch 22 by Joseph Heller

It might take you a few reads to understand what is going on, but this is a great war satire. 

30. Squire Trelawney, Dr. Livesey, and the rest of these gentlemen having asked me to write down the whole particulars about Treasure Island, from the beginning to the end, keeping nothing back but the bearings of the island, and that only because there is still treasure not yet lifted, I take up my pen in the year of grace 17 and go back to the time when my father kept the Admiral Benbow inn, and the brown old seaman, with the saber cut, first took up his lodging under our roof. – Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

This paragraph sets the scene for the adventures that follow in Robert Stevenson’s fantastic 1883 novel. 

31. Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. –  One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

Why is Colonel Aureliano Buendía facing a firing squad? Why is his father taking him to discover ice? So many questions. 

32. In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three.Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

This is a great novel worth reading for anyone who has seen the iconic animated film. 

33. This is the story of a man named Eddie and it starts at the end, with Eddie dying in the sun. It may seem strange to start a story with an ending, but all endings are also beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time. – The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Find out what happened to Eddie. 

34. If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book. In this book, not only is there no happy ending, there is no happy beginning and very few happy things in the middle. – The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket

You might think this book is sad and depressing but it’s actually quite a laugh. 

35. The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. – The Gunslinger by Stephen King

Stephen King’s supernatural western is a great series of books. Pity the movie is trash. 

36. In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit. – The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

What do these so-called Hobbits do? 

37. No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality walked alone. – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

This is a bit of a weird opener but it’s certainly intriguing. 

38. When he woke in the woods in the dark and cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. – The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Why is this fella sleeping in the woods with a child? Has the world ended? Are people eating each other? You better read this one and find out.

39. Sam Vimes sighed when he heard the scream, but he finished shaving before he did anything about it. – Night Watch by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is a brilliant writer and this one line is quite an interesting way to start a novel. 

40. I was running away. – The Spy Who Loved Me by Ian Fleming

James Bond doesn’t usually run away from things, so this was a different way to start this exhilarating novel about 007.

41. We slept in what had once been the gymnasium. – The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

If you know anything about this novel you know that living in a gym is not the worst thing the main characters have to deal with. 

42. 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. – Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton

This is the type of descriptive opener that pulls you in and makes you want to keep reading. 

43. The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel. – Neuromancer by William Gibson

One of the great sci-fi novels has a very inventive way to describe the sky. 

44. The boy’s name was Santiago. – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One of the great philosophical novels, the journey Santiago goes on is very inspiring. 

45. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, “and what is the use of a book,” thought Alice “without pictures or conversation?”Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll

If only Alice knew what was to come. 

46. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. –  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 

This is not the worst thing that happens in this American novel dealing with racial injustice. 

47. Late in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. – The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

If this book is anything like the movie you’ll be bawling your eyes out within the first 50 pages. 

48. The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and puzzling phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten. – Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea by Jules Verne

Who knows what you’ll find at the bottom of the ocean. 

49. Scarlett O’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

My dear, I don’t give a damn!

50. I was born in the Year 1632, in the City of York, of a good Family, tho’ not of that Country, my Father being a Foreigner of Bremen, who settled first at Hull; He got a good Estate by Merchandise, and leaving off his Trade, lived afterward at York, from whence he had married my Mother, whose Relations were named Robinson, a very good Family in that Country, and from whom I was called Robinson Kreutznaer; but by the usual Corruption of Words in England, we are now called, nay we call our selves, and write our Name Crusoe, and so my Companions always call’d me. – Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

This is a bit wordy for an opening sentence but it does give you a lot of information about what to expect if you keep reading.