“Call me Ishmael.” The first sentence in Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” is considered one of the greatest opening lines for a novel. Other classics often cited for their great opening lines include “The Catcher in the Rye” by J.D. Salinger and Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice.” So, what makes an opening line great? Stephen King reflected on this in a 2013 interview with Joe Fassler: “An opening line should invite the reader to begin the story. It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.” Here are a few contemporary novels whose first lines manage to do just that.
“The letter that would change everything arrived on a Tuesday.” So begins the novel “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry” by Rachel Joyce. Immediately, I found myself wondering what was in the letter, who wrote the letter and to whom it was written. I had to keep reading to find the answers to these questions. In this novel, the author examines the concepts of hope and redemption with a charming tale of a retired husband and father who takes a unique, impulsive and circuitous journey to fulfill a self-imposed quest to aid a dying woman. The story it captures is both poignant and humorous.
Jeanne Ray begins her novel, “Calling Invisible Women,” with “I first noticed I was missing on a Thursday.” This provocative sentence leads into a story about a wife and mother in her fifties who feels invisible to her family and the world around her. Her only worth seems to be in the services she provides — cooking dinner, doing the laundry and keeping the house clean. Imagine her surprise when she wakes up one Thursday to find herself physically invisible, but no one seems to notice. Ray uses a satirical voice to explore middle age, family dynamics and a woman’s role in modern society. Continue reading “Literary Links: Great First Lines”
I recently decided to relearn the French language — not that I was incredibly fluent in the first place, but I had taken five years and could cobble together a conversation. However, that was almost 40 years ago. So I enrolled in an adult immersion class at a local school and tried the intermediate section. Although I was surprised at how much I understood (in context, or course), participating in a conversation was equivalent to me staring blankly into headlights. I was trying to call up the appropriate vocabulary words, the right verb conjugation and whether I should use the masculine or feminine version — all at the same time. It was quite a lot to ask my almost 60 year old brain to handle. After a few classes, I realized I was in over my head and decided to postpone until the beginners class started again in the fall. Yet, I didn’t want to let more time further obliterate what little French I still held on to.
What could I do in the meantime? I decided it would be good to work on building my vocabulary and pronunciation skills. I had a long drive coming up, and so I found myself in the language section of our library. There I found shelves of books and audiovisual materials on languages ranging from French to Korean. I picked up what appeared to be some fairly basic vocabulary and speaking skill books with corresponding CDs. I also checked out some downloadable audiobooks to augment my limited grasp of the language. Armed with my audiobooks, I set out on my two hour drive. Continue reading “Learning a New Language at Your Library”
Last month, our book club read “The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio,” a memoir about a struggling family in the 1950s and a mother who enters contests to augment the family’s income. Our conversation about the book morphed into a discussion of what those times were like. It was a time when “housewives” were courted to submit jingles for popular products, when radio broadcasts and newspapers were still the main source of information about the world and traveling salesmen were regular visitors to households around America. Salesmen went door to door selling everything from “Fuller Brushes” to encyclopedias.
I didn’t anticipate how animated the discussion would become around our memories of using encyclopedias — for doing homework, looking at the sometimes exotic pictures and just the sense of pride over a family owning their own set. Encyclopedia sets were displayed proudly, and usually in a prominent place, in the home. I can remember how fascinating it was to turn each page and see information and beautiful pictures on a variety of subjects. It probably wasn’t that dissimilar to the feeling one has when accessing the internet for the first time and realizing you could instantly receive information on almost anything with the touch of your fingertips. Yet, the information on the internet can come from a variety of sources, some trusted, some not so much. Continue reading “Knowledge at Your Fingertips: Encyclopedias Offered at Your Library”
Having lived in college towns for much of my adult life, I have come to recognize a feeling of anticipation during the spring semester. It seems to be connected to the reality of students graduating and moving on to the next phase of their lives. For some it is graduate school, for others perhaps travel, but for many (and to the relief of their parents) they are beginning to work on obtaining employment. There are newly retired individuals looking for part-time jobs to augment their income and stay involved in the community. Spring also seems to be a time to job hunt for a better salary or to increase job satisfaction. Continue reading “Job Searching Tips for Everyone”
If you have ever made the drive to St. Louis from Columbia, you might have noticed a house that has been deteriorating for at least the last 30 years. I have watched it over the years as I drive back and forth; each time it is a little more dilapidated. It used to have a porch. That is gone now. The roof, windows and door frame sag; vines and bushes have grown around and throughout the house. Yet, you can tell it was a good, solid house at one point. I hope that it had a time of being cherished and a place people lovingly called home. Continue reading “Ghost Towns: Escaping Into the Past”
Last night, our monthly book club met, and once again, it was full of fun, energy, discussion and lots of laughter. Each month I come away with such a sense of gratitude for being a part of this group, and I wish everyone could have this experience. You see, our book club is completely made up of individuals that live in our neighborhood, and that unique element takes the connection between us to a whole different level. Before our meeting begins, women can be seen walking through the neighborhood on their way to the home of whomever is hosting the current month’s discussion, with their dish to share. As we arrive, there is fun discussion of neighborhood happenings, family news and updates on remodeling projects. (And yes, we even discuss the book.) I like to think this is what neighborhoods used to be like, before the onslaught of technology, transience and shifting school boundaries. Or maybe what it was like when women got together to work on a quilt or to do the canning for the winter. It is more than a book club; it provides a sense of community that was certainly missing for me. Continue reading “Book Clubs: The Community They Create and Resources to Start Your Own”