February 18, 2006

Best first lines -- and last?

A couple of weeks ago, The American Book Review, a "nonprofit journal published at the Unit for Contemporary Literature at Illinois State University", came up with a list of the 100 best first lines from novels. I was surprised and pleased to see that they included the openings of William Gibson's Neuromancer, Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle. Some may be surprised to see that #22 is from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's Paul Clifford, "It was a dark and stormy night".

I don't know any similar compendium of endings.

[Update: Michael de Mare writes

I read your post on the Language Log about best last lines, and was sufficiently inspired to start a compendium:


Good last lines seem rarer than good first lines; I only managed to find six of them so far.

At least, good last lines don't make as much of an impact and are harder to remember. I can't think of many of them unprompted, though I have a feeling that when I start pulling books down from the shelf and looking at the end, it will turn out that there are plenty of excellent endings.]

Posted by Mark Liberman at February 18, 2006 09:39 AM