I listened as I walked through our condo complex yesterday morning. I heard the usual falling leaves, the pop-thud of a falling branch. Sound tumbled through the storm sewer with the melodic crashing of fast moving waters. When I got too close, a large blue heron took sudden flight from a small pond and the rushing thrashing of wings and air was nearly as loud as the echos from the storm drain. Birds tweeted and one had a deep-throated bark I did not recognize. My own feet drummed a soft rhythm on the asphalt. These sounds were hit-and-miss, separated, not orchestrated in any way I heard.

I like the sounds I hear in the opening of some novels because they create a picture with connected meanings. For me, choosing a book to read has something to do with the sounds the writer creates on that first page.

Here are several books with sound beginnings. Listen and smile. What do you hear?

How The Light Gets In by Louise Penny. On page one a woman drives through the Ville-Marie Tunnel in Montreal. “The truck ahead would veer, skidding, slamming sideways. An unholy shriek would bounce off the hard walls and race toward her, all-consuming. Horns, alarms, brakes, people screaming.”

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert. In these sentences from the first page, we hear sounds, some the author only suggests. ….palm fronds rustling like locusts high above, as she and her brother played among the rice paddies and fishponds of Waikiki….She remembered riding the trolley cars with her sister up King Street––the two of them squeezed in amidst everything from squid to pigs, chickens to Chinese laundry––mules and horses exuberantly defecating as they dragged the tram along in their wake.”

The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane by Kelly Harms. “It is the middle of the afternoon and my phone has been ringing on and off for about ten minutes. I don’t want to answer it––it might distract me from the single most important thing in my life at the moment: hollandaise. Sometimes a thought bangs around in our brain making so much noise we cannot think. I can hear the whirr and buzz of hollandaise in her head as I read this. For the character it is louder than the telephone.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt. “The tenth or eleventh night on the road we drank whiskey and hollered under the stars. There was a running race. Knife throwing. Cracker-swallowing contest. Feats of strength. One of the boys tried to arm wrestle me and got the back of his hand scraped when I smacked it down.” A reader can hear the ruckus of a group of young Civil War recruits on their way to war.

The purpose here is to encourage us to listen when we read, to hear the sounds, to inhabit the mind or the place where these sounds are heard. Do you often read the first page or two before you choose a book? I do. I would like to learn to listen more carefully.

You may have a favorite sound bite you would like to share from a book you are considering or one you read recently. Will it help readers choose what to read? Or perhaps we will just enjoy the words and the sounds they evoke.


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