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Making the most of those opening lines

December 16, 2007 |  9:24 am

First impressions matter on first dates, and they do with book reviews too. For your consideration, here are some provocative first sentences, from clever to pithy and everywhere between, culled from recent reviews appearing in a variety of outlets:

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Alan Jacobs, on a collection of Kahlil Gibran’s collected works, writing for First Things in a cruel homage to Gibran's style:

"Expansive and yet vacuous is the prose of Kahlil Gibran,
And weary grows the mind doomed to read it.
The hours of my penance lengthen,
The penance established for me by the editor of this magazine,
And those hours may be numbered as the sands of the desert...."

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Benjamin Jacob Hollars, on Ryan Boudinot’s "The Littlest Hitler," for Bookslut:

"Reading Ryan Boudinot’s short story collection, ‘The Littlest Hitler,’ is a little like stuffing your mouth with Pop Rocks and waiting for the explosion. It’s a little like dismantling a bomb. It’s like inhabiting a world where your brain is in your foot, your heart in your elbow, and yet you remain confident that you are anatomically correct while the world around you is horribly deformed."

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Lewis Macadams, on the poets Philip Whalen and Joanne Kyger, appearing in this Sunday’s L.A. Times Book Review:

"Philip Whalen and Joanne Kyger are often viewed as ‘poets’ poets’--a kiss of death that generally implies their music is out of most people’s range. But really, what this means is they’re the types of poets to whom other poets turn for their perfect pitch, to proclaim who they are....Whalen and Kyger are essentially School of Backyard poets, who look out their kitchen windows and see the universe."

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Cristina Nehring, on the sad condition of the American essay, at Truthdig:

"The essay is in a bad way. It’s not because essayists have gotten stupider. It’s not because they’ve gotten sloppier. And it is certainly not because they’ve become less anthologized. More anthologies are published now than there have been in decades, indeed in centuries. ‘The Best American Essays’ series, which began in 1986, has reached 20 volumes. The problem is that these series rot in basements--when they make it as far as that. I’ve found the run of ‘American Essays’ in the basement of my local library, where they’ll sit--with zero date stamps--until released gratis one fine Sunday morning to a used bookstore that, in turn, will sell them for a buck to a college student who’ll place them next to his dorm bed and dump them in an end-of-semester clean-out. That is the fate of the essay today."

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All of these are entertaining, but what’s the best opening line? Perhaps the briefest of them all.

Here’s William Fitzgerald, on Mary Beard’s historical study "The Roman Triumph," in the Times Literary Supplement:

" ‘Triumph’ is a word with umph."

Nick Owchar

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