50 Words or Less

More often than not, I decide to read a book all the way through because of the first sentence (or two). While I believe in giving books a chance regardless of rather weak beginnings, powerful opening sentences immediately get me hooked. For me, it’s the litmus test for novels. That may sound biased, but there you go. Ironically, this is not the case when I meet new people—first impressions mean nothing to me. But this post is not about my strangeness. This is about great novels that will make you miserable, snort in laughter, nod in instant agreement, or doubt your own existence in 50 words or less.

1. Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.”

2. The Stranger by Albert Camus

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

4. Anthem by Ayn Rand

“It is a sin to write this. It is a sin to think words no others think and to put them down upon a paper no others are to see.”

5. Little Women by Luisa May Alcott

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.”

6. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

“Dr Strauss says I shoud rite down what I think and remembir and evrey thing that happins to me from now on. I dont no why but he says its importint so they will see if they can use me.”

7. Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger

“Though brilliantly sunny, Saturday morning was overcoat weather again, not just topcoat weather, as it had been all week and as everyone had hoped it would stay for the big weekend—the weekend of the Yale game.”

8. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York. I’m stupid about executions.”

9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

“Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense.”

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry

“It was almost December, and Jonas was beginning to be frightened.”

11. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

12. The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

“The idea of eternal return is a mysterious one, and Nietzche has often perplexed other philosophers with it: to think that everything recurs as we once experienced it and that the recurrence itself recurs ad infinitum! What does this mad myth signify?”

13. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.”

As with rules, this list has exceptions. The following are opening sentences that have more than 50 words but less than a hundred.

1. A Curious Incident the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon

“It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shear’s house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.”

2. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan and John Green

“When I was little, my dad used to tell me, “Will, you can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” This seemed like a reasonably astute observation to me when I was eight, but it turns out to be incorrect on a few levels.”

3. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”