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.”


Top 10 Books for 2012

Let’s see. I’ve been very diligent in reading books the past six months or so. I know I’ve been reading a lot of young adult fiction lately, but I have to admit, I’ve underestimated its quality all these years. I always thought YA books are for teens. You know, high school students who are just beginning to know the perils of being in love and maintaining a relationship for the first time. But there are really great books today that are not shallow and instead discuss really important and current themes.

So here I am listing my favorite books for 2012. Not all titles in the list are YA books, but most are. I hope I get more people to read these. And for those who think that YA books are too lame? I’ve been there.  I owe my love for John Green and Sophie Kinsella to friends who’ve recommended them. And you really can’t judge a book by its cover (or title, or author), quite literally.

1. Perks of Being a Wallflower – this is how I learned about the book: One afternoon, I was listening (yet again) to RENT songs. Then, out of nowhere, I started wondering who wrote the movie’s screenplay and if that person had other download-worthy movies. So I looked it up on Wikipedia. I found out Stephen Chbosky wrote the screenplay and that he has a well-received coming-of-age novel, for which a movie was already in production, and in which Emma Watson was starring! Needless to say, I needed to read the book. It was well-written and felt very personal. I’m sure Charlie connected to the readers in different ways, but the beautiful thing about the book is that it also allowed readers to connect to one another. And that in itself is already a great reason to read it.

2. The Fault in Our Stars – I finished reading the book in less than 24 hours. It wasn’t the first John Green novel I read, but it was because of this book that I decided John Green is one of the best writers today. Not only did he drift away from the normal triviality that some YA books focus on, but he does it with such flair that he has created an entirely new standard for writing young adult fiction. He understands pain and he gets the readers. Plus, he has the panache for storytelling that many writers today lack.

3. Looking for Alaska – the first John Green novel I’ve read, it was a very refreshing book. The novel is split in two parts, Before and After. John Green is known for writing very smart teenagers (some might say too smart to be believable), and Alaska Young was the perfect heroine for his style. All the unusual elements made up for a profoundly moving book. The format was unusual, the characters were new to me, and the story was complex; it evoked a certain familiarity that I’m sure everyone understands on some level.

4. Will Grayson, Will Grayson – the first novel I’ve read that’s a collaboration between two authors. I really enjoy reading unconventionally written novels. I love people who defy some of the rules and just enjoy writing. The book is about two boys named Will Grayson who don’t know each other but will eventually meet because of special circumstances. The two Will Graysons are worlds apart, but there is something that connects them the way coffee is always connected with donuts and Marco is always connected with Polo. I think it’s fantastic how John Green’s and David Levithan’s styles molded into one coherent, distinctly different but amazingly connected narrative. John Green writes characters you wish you knew and are friends with in real life, while David Levithan writes characters that mirror the version of yourself you don’t want anyone else to know about. And you know what? It works.

5. Every Day – another unusually written novel. Not only does it defy rules, it also defies logic. And as Jerry Seinfeld said in his book, when you want to enjoy something, you must never, ever let logic get in the way. Every Day is like that. Have you ever started things in your life that you know can’t end well, but you did them anyway because you knew that despite losing a lot of yourself in it, there is also still something to gain? That is our lives at one point or another. And that is this book. I absolutely love the narrator’s idea of falling in love with an individual, regardless of the gender. I know it’s a tall order for most people, but it sounds liberating, if only in theory.

6. Let It Snow – Let It Snow is a collaboration among three friends and authors—John Green, Maureen Johnson and Lauren Myracle. I admit that I bought this book mainly because of John Green, but I must say I also enjoyed Maureen Johnson’s story equally. It’s an easy read, perfect for days that you just want something short and feel-good to read—perhaps on a plane to somewhere? While sunbathing on a beach? Or just when you have an hour or two to spare?

7. Love is a Mix Tape – one of two nonfiction books on this list. Love is a Mix Tape is a homage to Renee, Rob Sheffield’s Great Love. The author is generous enough to share his love, life and loss story with Renee in a manner sharing of mix tapes. He opens up his story while in his New York apartment alone and playing the mix tape Rumblefish, made by his late wife. It’s a bittersweet experience. Personally, it taught me that the best and worst things in our lives happen when we least expect them. We can never prepare for them. Falling in love? Complete surprise and overwhelmingly scary. Losing the love of your life? The same. But it doesn’t matter. Whether you feel like you’re on top of the world or at the bottom of the ocean gasping for air, all you need is the right person, the right song, and you’re all set.

8. Twenties Girl – I’ve read this book twice last year. It’s the book that made me realize how good Sophie Kinsella really is at comedy. I’ve always thought she was overrated, and I didn’t enjoy The Undomestic Goddess that much when I read it back in college, but this book absolutely changed my mind. Sophie Kinsella is funny. And not tongue-in-cheek funny. She is really, genuinely, laughing-in-public-places, embarrassing-myself hilarious. And it doesn’t hurt that she writes the most drop-dead gorgeous leading men for her heroines. I applaud her for not succumbing to the temptation of making her books sexy for the readers. Because seriously, more often than not, making a story erotic cheapens it. And yes, I’m taking about the Fifty Shades trilogy.

9. Breakfast at Tiffany’s – one of my favorite modern classics. Yes, I’ve seen the movie first before reading the book, but it’s okay. Both are amazing. Holly Golightly is not your typical heroine. She makes you want to go out there and let go a little, enjoy life more, and not take yourself too seriously all the time. She makes losing yourself seem fun and, at times, necessary.

10. Nicholas and Alexandra – another nonfiction in the list. I am not usually into historical accounts, but I’ve loved Nicholas and Alexandra since I was a kid. It’s weird, I know. I don’t know how many times I’ve read this book. Their story is just… WOW. From the moment they met, how Nicholas proposed to Alexandra, Nicholas ruling Russia, to their deaths and fictionalizing some parts of their life (you know, the Rasputin part and how Anastasia allegedly escaped and lived to be an old lady)—it’s all very unbelievably amazing and sad and beautiful all at the same time. My heart goes to Russia’s last Royal Family. And my God, Robert K. Massie did a great job writing this biography.

This year, I promise to read more books, explore more genres, and share them to friends.