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.”

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22 Reasons Why I Love Will Grayson, Will Grayson

When I started this (secondary) blog, I told myself I would post only the ones that look least like random rants about how everything sucks in the world. Because that’s what the other blog is for—me being more free and less sensible and altogether snarky and dark and pessimistic. I figured, if I was going to complain about the shittiness of everything around me, or bask in the glorious glow of love and happiness, I should at least write it down properly. Otherwise, I’m wasting my time and energy.

But for tonight I want to break that rule. I’ve just finished reading Will Grayson, Will Grayson and I was surprised that I’ve highlighted 22 different quotes from the book. Believe me, that’s a lot. Tonight I will not ramble on about how much I love the book, which I do, by the way. I will just straight out list the quotes I’ve highlighted and hope that they be enough reasons why everyone should read the book.

  1. “If you can’t trust your gut, then what can you trust?” And I say, “You can trust that caring, as a rule, ends poorly,” which is true. Caring doesn’t sometimes lead to misery. It always does.
  2. “I feel like my life is so scattered right now. Like it’s all these small pieces of paper and someone’s turned on the fan. But talking to you makes me feel like the fan’s been turned off for a little bit. Like things could actually make sense. You completely unscatter me, and I appreciate that so much.”
  3. “As lives go, I’ll take the quietly desperate over the radically bipolar.”
  4. “Some people have life; some people have music.”
  5. “Why would you like someone who can’t like you back? The question is rhetorical, but if I wasn’t trying to shut up, I’d answer it: You like someone who can’t like you back because unrequited love can be survived in a way that once-requited love cannot.”
  6. “…how I would feel with him here. That peace. It would be so happy, and it makes me sad because it only exists in words.”
  7. “He is both the source of my happiness and the one I want to share it with. I have to believe that’s a sign.”
  8. “How is it even possible to be both attracted and not attracted to someone at the very same moment, and whether maybe I am a robot incapable of real feelings, and do you think that actually, like trying to follow the rules about shutting up and not caring has made me into some kind of hideous monster whom no one will every love or marry.”
  9. “It’s hard to believe in coincidence, but it’s even harder to believe in anything else.”
  10. “The things you hope for the most are the things that destroy you in the end.”
  11. “Anything that happens all at once is just as likely to unhappen all at once, you know?”
  12. “’Random questions’ are the least random of all questions.”
  13. “Maybe I don’t like you the way someone should like you. I don’t like you in the call-you-and-read-you-a-poem-every-night-before-you-go-to-bed way. I’m crazy, okay?”
  14. “There are people in the world with real problems, you know? You gotta keep it in perspective.”
  15. “When things break, it’s not the actual breaking that prevents them from getting back together again. It’s because a little piece gets lost—the two remaining ends couldn’t fit together even if they wanted to. The whole shape has changed.”
  16. “I think how much depends upon a best friend. When you wake up in the morning, you swing your legs out of bed and you put your feet on the ground and you stand up. You don’t scoot to the edge of the bed and look down to make sure the floor is there. The floor is always there. Until it’s not.”
  17. “I don’t know what freaks me out more—that I matter to him, or that he matters to me.”
  18. “Need is never a good basis for any relationship. It has to be much more than that.”
  19. “…in my recent experience, I’d say hurt tends to drown out sorry.”
  20. “This is why we call people exes, I guess—because the paths that cross in the middle end up separating at the end.”
  21. “Love is the most common miracle.”
  22. Weltschmerz. It’s the depression you feel when the world as it is does not line up with the world as you think it should be. I live in a big goddamed weltzschermz ocean, you know? And so do you. And so does everyone. Because everyone thinks it should be possible just to keep falling and falling over, to feel the rush of the air on your face as you fall, that air is pulling your face into a brilliant goddamed smile. And that should be possible. You should be able to fall forever.”