By the Duck Pond

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” Those remarkable opening lines: so iconic that they transcend the books to which they belong and become cultural touchstones in their own right. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin. All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. It was a bright cold day in April and the clocks were all striking thirteen. There are some establishing sentences that say so much, that speak such volumes, you cannot help but follow them on into the books they begin, and even before you do, you know the journey will leave you a changed person. They are like the opening phrase of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5: comparatively few people know the entire symphony by heart — but everyone, everyone, knows those first four notes. The opening lines above are among the most famous in literature; here are a few of my own favorites, drawn from books I dearly love. The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. All this happened, more or less. There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it. It is cold. See the snow. See the snow come down. It was only a duck pond, out at the back of the farm. And my number one favorite of all time, from my favorite book of all time: I exist! (These magnificent opening lines are drawn from: The Gunslinger, by Stephen King; Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut; The Voyage of...