Monthly Archives: July 2013

FIRST LINES IN FICTION

We give a particular book a second look for a number of reasons: the dust jacket, the inside cover, the author, the title, we read about it, it won awards, etc. But, especially in fiction, the first sentence is likely to draw us into the story. We hear a voice and we want to hear more. We start the read with enthusiasm if we are caught by that first line.

Here are some first lines in no particular order. What do you think? Do you have a favorite from this list?

“Picture a late-June morning in 1918, a time when Montgomery wore her prettiest spring dress and finest floral perfume––same as I would wear that evening.”
Z A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

“Later he would tell her that their story began at the Royal Hungarian Opera House, the night before he left for Paris on the Western Europe Express.”
The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

“His face was as pitted as the moon.”
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.”
The Round House by Louise Erdrich

“The morning ripened slowly, ten o’clock felt like noon.”
Driftless by David Rhodes

“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.”
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“Everyone had their own job to do on the Ryans’ farm in Stoney-bridge.”
A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

“Beth is alone in her house, listening to the storm, wondering what to do next.”
Love Anthony by Lisa Genova

“I lived when I was young at the end of a long road, or a road that seemed long to me.”
“Dear Life” in Dear Life Stories by Alice Munro

“The house where my father’s parents, Dorie and Marce Catlett, spent their long marriage was not a happy one, though I was often happy in it.”
“Misery” in A Place in Time by Wendell Berry.

Do you have a first line you’d like to add to this collection? Maybe, one of these first lines will draw you to a book. All of these books have been published in the last year or two. Waiting to hear you comment……


Ulysses Grant

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THE MAN WHO SAVED THE UNION: ULYSSES GRANT IN WAR AND PEACE.
BY H.W. BRANDS
DOUBLEDAY 2012
Genre: Biography
637 pages

Julia Dent fell in love with Ulysses Grant, and I understand how she did. Maybe I am falling just a bit in love with him, too. As a man he was first and last a patriot and a principled one. This book is the first full biography of Grant in ten years and his biographer likes him, too. He sees the best in him, and it would appear he is resurrecting his reputation. This book is now out in paperback. It is named by Amazon as one of the best books of the year so far.

In spite of my interest in the Civil War era and the time I have spent in Galena where Grant lived and worked before the war and at times afterward, I have not read any of his previous biographies. This summer, no doubt influenced by the dust jacket of this book and my time in “Grant’s town”, I decided it was high time I did read about him.

When Grant returned to Galena after the war, prominent local Republicans presented him with the house as part of the local celebration. It is a brick house that stands on a hill overlooking the town. It remained his political and voting address during the 1868 presidential campaign and for brief periods during his presidency and retirement. The U.S. Grant Home in Galena is a state historic site.

I find the book properly analytical and clear. Reading this book is the first time in my life that I have had any interest or real understanding of the Mexican War. At so many points, the reader is likely to see with fresh perspective and feel strongly the tangled relationships of those caught up in the struggle that nearly tore apart the county. For example when Confederate General Bruckner accepted defeat at Fort Donelson, he and Grant recalled how he had loaned Grant money after Grant’s time in California before the war. Their rivalry continued, from long ago days and was freshened by this battle, as is made clear from their conversation as conveyed by the author.

The book is enjoyable, easy to read and well paced. But it is not a short read. I may have more to say about the book when I have finished. So far Grant comes across as a man of deep feeling both in battle and in his personal life. I’m learning there is much to admire about him. But, like any person, he had times in his life when he overcame hurtful episodes, depression and poor judgment. That he did overcome these is a tribute to his grit and to those who loved and championed him. I look forward to reading about his actions late in the war and as president, as well as his life after holding the land’s highest office. What was his greatest influence on history?

I am especially enjoying the parts of the book about Grant and Julia’s family life and the early Galena years. I’d like more about his devotion to Julia and his everyday life. I may well read a biography about Julia next. But first, I expect to finish this biography, and to learn more about a man who handled what history handed him as well as he handled 200 pound hides when he worked in the leather business.

Grant's Place 2