First Sentences

The steamer, Sestri Levante, stood high above the dockside and the watery sleet, carried on the wind blustering down from the Black Sea, had drenched even the small shelter deck.” Eric Ambler, Journey into Fear.

“Ed Greenfield collected people the way other men collect comic books or old stamps or vintage cards.” Jill Lepore, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.

“Whatever Mum’s saying’s drowned out by the grimy roar of the bus pulling away, revealing a pub called The Fox and Hounds.” David Mitchell, Slade House.

“We know so little of the worlds beneath our feet.” Robert Macfarlane, Underworld: A Deep Time Journey.

“Emma sat on the shingle bank and watched the kids on the beach below build a bonfire.” Ann Cleves, Wild Fire.

“On the morning of October 1, 1907, the hotel bellmen and front desk staff were scurrying about the marble lobby, smoothing their uniforms and making final preparations.” Julie Satow, The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel.

“In the spring of 1926 I resigned from my job.” Thornton Wilder, Theophilus North.

“His upper jawbone was massive—a long, curved bone with nine tiny holes meant to hold his teeth.” Kate Winkler Dawson, American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI.

“Castle, ever since he had joined the firm as a young recruit more than thirty years ago, had taken his lunch in a public house behind St. James’s Street, not far from the office.” Graham Greene, The Human Factor.

“By the time Charity had heard about the young woman, it was too late to help.” Michael Lewis, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.

“He lay, flat on the brown, pine-needled floor of the forest, his chin on his folded arms, and high overhead the wind blew in the tops of the pine trees.” Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls. (The last line of the novel: “He could feel his heart beating against the pine needle floor of the forest.”)

“John F. Kennedy was a man with a keenly developed sense of humor.” Bill Adler (ed.), The Kennedy Wit.

“The night Effia Otcher was born into the musky heat of Fanteland, a fire raged through the woods just outside her father’s compound.” Yaa Gyasi, Homegoing.

First Sentences

“In a broad valley, at the foot of a sloping hillside, beside a clear bubbling stream, Tom was building a house.” Ken Follett, Pillars of the Earth.

“Sir or Lady (as I shall call him) sits on the promontory in our village, deep in movie love.” Hilton Als, White Girls.

“It was in the summer of 1998 that my neighbor Coleman Silk—who, before retiring two years earlier, had been a classics professor at nearby Athena College for some twenty-odd years as well as serving for sixteen more years as the dean of the faculty—confided to me that, at the age of seventy-one, he was having an affair with a thirty-four-year-old cleaning woman who worked down at the college.” Philip Roth, The Human Stain.

“The crowd began to cluster at the corner of Hoffman and Bolton, near the entrance to the Armory, in the late afternoon—a quiet, orderly crowd, more women than men.” Jeff Shesol, Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court.

“The open door was only yards away, and beyond it lay the outside world, eerily unaffected by anything happening inside the abandoned snooker hall.” Ian Rankin, Doors Open.

“The scientists of the Simulmatics Corporation spent the summer of 1961 on a beach on Long Island beneath a geodesic dome that looked as if it had landed there, amid the dunes, a spaceship gone to ground.” Jill Lepore, If Then: How the Simulmatics Corporation Invented the Future.

“He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor that swung from the rafters.” Virginia Woolf, Orlando.

“The way into the underland is through the riven trunk of an old ash tree.” Robert Macfarlane, Underworld: A Deep Time Journey

You now have one choice.” Scarlett Thomas, The End of Mr. Y.

“Subrata Roy was reclining on a sofa in a pink shirt, orange pocket square, and plaid blazer, his outfit contrasting sharply with the spare, all-white living room.” Julie Satow, The Plaza: The Secret Life of America’s Most Famous Hotel.

“The discourse which follows may appear to the reader as mere fancy or as a dream, penned on waking, in those fevered moments when one is still mesmerized by those conjuring tricks that are produced in the mind once the eyes are closed.” Thomas E. Lumas, The End of Mr. Y.

“Laura Glass was thirteen years old and entering the eighth grade at Jefferson Middle School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when she looked over her father’s shoulder to see what he was working on.” Michael Lewis, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.


I have lived long enough to see what I never thought I would see: professional cornhole players. If I can keep hanging on, perhaps I will eventually see professional axe throwers.

When the game is between two American soccer teams, should the American announcer use the American zero, or is it ok, or merely pretentious, for him to say that the score is “two to nil”?

I read that trees and other vegetation are connected below the ground by fungi. I liked the term used to describe the phenomenon: Wood wide web.

          There is always a loin cloth in the depiction as if nakedness would be a greater indignity and affront to us than being nailed to a cross, but perhaps without this modesty protection there is concern that someone, seeing what had been hidden, would shout, “Oh my God!!!”

          I learned from Richard W. Fox, Jesus in America: Personal Savior, Cultural Hero, National Obsession that many Protestant churches early in America’s history did not publicly display the cross because it was seen as a mere emblem that substituted for the doctrine of Christ crucified and, therefore, was a form of idolatry akin to Catholic practices. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, most Protestant churches had abandoned strictures on the representations of Christ, and crosses and “portraits” of Jesus began appearing in the churches.

“We are commanded to forgive our enemies; but you never read that we are commanded to forgive our friends.” Sir Francis Bacon.

On a streaming show, when it was asked if a character was involved in the crime, Miranda uttered the cliché, “Oh no, Alex is a Boy Scout.” Are there any data on whether present or past Boy Scouts are more morally and ethically upright than others?

Was it a step on the road to perdition for me that I felt a spark of gladness when I saw the BMW being towed off for illegal parking?

          From her church “she learned that while there was only one road to heaven, there were a great many to hell.” Michael Lewis, The Premonition: A Pandemic Story.

          New York City has primary elections for mayor next month. We will use ranked choice voting for the first time. Somewhere, I am sure, there is someone who understands what that means, but that ballot process is only one part of the confusion. There are many candidates, and I’m guessing that most of the electorate could not name them all, much less state what their credentials or policies are. Nevertheless, this election does have what now seems a standard feature—an allegation of sexual harassment that included the claim of abuse of power because the candidate suggested that the woman would get coveted political positions if the two had sex. That made me wonder if we will ever see this: A woman is running for office when an older man comes forward and says, “She and I had sex twenty years ago. I helped her become [pick a position]. But once she got in office, she dumped me. She was just using me to move up. She abused me by using her sexual power over me.”