Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Beginnings and Endings!

In which Sam rants about the English language, raves about Hemingway (as usual) and rambles on absolutely forever

For this week's TTT, we've been asked to share the best book beginnings & endings. I took this rather literally and sought out the words that most shook me up when I read them first (rather than "I'm so glad that X person got a dragon in the end" because, well, I am nearly always glad to rave about the presence/rant about the absence of dragons.)

Also, this TTT is super long. You've been warned. 

And as always, credit to The Broke and the Bookish for this fabulous feature!


5. Garth Nix, Lirael

"It was a hot, steamy summer, and the mosquitoes swarmed everywhere, from their breeding grounds in the rotten, reedy shores of the Red Lake up to the foothills of Mount Abed. Small, bright-eyed birds swooped among the clouds of insects, eating their fill. Above them, birds of prey circled, to devour the smaller birds in turn.

But there was one place near the Red Lake where no mosquito or bird flew, and no grass or living thing would grow. A low hill, little more than two miles from the eastern shore. A mound of close-packed dirt and stones, stark and strange amidst the wild grassland that surrounded it, and the green forest that climbed the nearby hills.

The mound had no name . . ."

Just listen to that! The growling cadence of the two "Rs"- rotten, reedy - and the circling birds, devouring and destroying. You're slapping away the mosquitoes, aren't you? Staring at that hill! What is this mound? What's going on? You don't know, but you do know that you have to keep reading!

4. Madeline L'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time

"It was a dark and stormy night.
In her attic bedroom Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind. Behind the trees clouds scudded frantically across the sky. Every few moments the moon ripped through them, creating wraithlike shadows that raced along the ground."

Yes, it's the cliché "dark and stormy night," but it's the classic, too. No matter what time of day I open this book, it's suddenly a crisp, windy night that settles around me. 

3. Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.
However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters."

Isn't it strange how that sentence has utterly failed to age?

2. Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY. The enormous room on the ground floor faced towards the north. Cold for all the summer beyond the panes, for all the tropical heat of the room itself, a harsh thin light glared through the windows, hungrily seeking some draped lay figure, some pallid shape of academic goose-flesh, but finding only the glass and nickel and bleakly shining porcelain of a laboratory. Wintriness responded to wintriness. The overalls of the workers were white, their hands gloved with a pale corpse-coloured rubber. The light was frozen, dead, a ghost. Only from the yellow barrels of the microscopes did it borrow a certain rich and living substance, lying along the polished tubes like butter, streak after luscious streak in long recession down the work tables. 
“And this,” said the Director opening the door, “is the Fertilizing Room.”

If you can get through the last two sentences of that second paragraph without shivers, read it again. "The light was frozen, dead, a ghost." He captures the light for you - stuns it, stops it in its tracks, freezes it - then takes its life away, it's dead - then resurrects it for you. In words! In seven words!

1. Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

"For having lived in Westminster--how many years now? over twenty,-- one feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense (but that might be her heart, affected, they said, by influenza) before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June."

I'm cheating, because this isn't precisely the beginning of the novel, but this is one of the best passages I've ever had the pleasure to stumble across - read it and your thoughts begin to tumble as quickly as the words do out onto the page, and you are tripping along the streets, rushing like mad, and giddy - and why? Because Ms. Woolf has won you over, of course.


We've interpreted "endings" quite liberally here - sometimes chapter endings, sometimes the ends of short stories, and sometimes the ends of novels. We don't want to spoil the journey for you - though for some of these novels, it won't matter whether you know the end - so proceed with caution!


5. Stephen King, Pet Sematery (end of the novel)

The police came late that afternoon. They asked questions but voiced no suspicions. The ashes were still hot; they had not yet been raked. Louis answered their questions. They seemed satisfied. They spoke outside and he wore a hat. That was good. If they had seen his gray hair, they might have asked more questions. That would have been bad. He wore his gardening gloves, and that was good too. His hands were bloody and ruined.

He played solitaire that night until long after midnight.

He was just dealing a fresh hand when he heard the back door open.

What you buy is what you own, and sooner or later what you own will come back to you, Louis Creed thought.

He did not turn around but only looked at his cards as the slow, gritting footsteps approached. He saw the queen of spades. He put his hand on it.

The steps ended directly behind him.


A cold hand fell on Louis's shoulder. Rachel's voice was grating, full of dirt.

"Darling," it said.

Terrifying. It loses some of its power out of context, but let me assure you - terrifying. 

4. Henry David Thoreau, Walden (end of "Where I Lived, What I Lived For")

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars. I cannot count one. I know not the first letter of the alphabet. I have always been regretting that I was not as wise as the day I was born. The intellect is a cleaver; it discerns and rifts its way into the secret of things. I do not wish to be any more busy with my hands than is necessary. My head is hands and feet. I feel all my best faculties concentrated in it. My instinct tells me that my head is an organ for burrowing, as some creatures use their snout and fore paws, and with it I would mine and burrow my way through these hills. I think that the richest vein is somewhere hereabouts; so by the divining-rod and thin rising vapors I judge; and here I will begin to mine."


3. James Joyce, Ulysses (end of the novel)

“Yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will yes.”

I'm aware of how pretentious it is to say that your favorite book is Ulysses, so let me come clean - I haven't read it. But then I saw this passage, and it struck me. I'm desperate to read it now. That ending! yes I said yes I will yes - sigh.

2. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (end of chapter 15)

"You have saved my life: I have a pleasure in owing you so immense a debt.  I cannot say more.  Nothing else that has being would have been tolerable to me in the character of creditor for such an obligation: but you: it is different;—I feel your benefits no burden, Jane.”
He paused; gazed at me: words almost visible trembled on his lips,—but his voice was checked.
“Good-night again, sir.  There is no debt, benefit, burden, obligation, in the case.”
“I knew,” he continued, “you would do me good in some way, at some time;—I saw it in your eyes when I first beheld you: their expression and smile did not”—(again he stopped)—“did not” (he proceeded hastily) “strike delight to my very inmost heart so for nothing.  People talk of natural sympathies; I have heard of good genii: there are grains of truth in the wildest fable.  My cherished preserver, goodnight!”
Strange energy was in his voice, strange fire in his look.
“I am glad I happened to be awake,” I said: and then I was going.
“What! you will go?”
“I am cold, sir.”
“Cold?  Yes,—and standing in a pool!  Go, then, Jane; go!”  But he still retained my hand, and I could not free it.  I bethought myself of an expedient.
“I think I hear Mrs. Fairfax move, sir,” said I.
“Well, leave me:” he relaxed his fingers, and I was gone.
I regained my couch, but never thought of sleep.  Till morning dawned I was tossed on a buoyant but unquiet sea, where billows of trouble rolled under surges of joy.  I thought sometimes I saw beyond its wild waters a shore, sweet as the hills of Beulah; and now and then a freshening gale, wakened by hope, bore my spirit triumphantly towards the bourne: but I could not reach it, even in fancy—a counteracting breeze blew off land, and continually drove me back.  Sense would resist delirium: judgment would warn passion.  Too feverish to rest, I rose as soon as day dawned.
I have been picturing that strange fire in Mr. Rochester's eyes since I was sixteen.
1. Ernest Hemingway, "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"

He knelt down, took a handkerchief from his pocket, and spread it over Francis Macomber's crew-cropped head where it lay. The blood sank into the dry, loose earth.
Wilson stood up and saw the buffalo on his side, his legs out, his thinly-haired belly crawling with ticks. "Hell of a good bull," his brain registered automatically. "A good fifty inches, or better. Better." He called to the driver and told him to spread a blanket over the body and stay by it. Then he walked over to the motor car where the woman sat crying in the corner.
"That was a pretty thing to do," he said in a toneless voice. "He would have left you too."
"Stop it," she said.
"Of course it's an accident," he said. "I know that."
"Stop it," she said.
"Don't worry," he said. "There will be a certain amount of unpleasantness but I will have some photographs taken that will be very useful at the inquest. There's the testimony of the gun-bearers and the driver too. You're perfectly all right."
"Stop it," she said.
"There's a hell of a lot to be done," he said. "And I'll have to send a truck off to the lake to wireless for a plane to take the three of us into Nairobi. Why didn't you poison him? That's what they do in England."
"Stop it. Stop it. Stop it," the woman cried.
Wilson looked at her with his flat blue eyes.
"I'm through now," he said. "I was a little angry. I'd begun to like your husband."
"Oh, please stop it," she said. "Please, please stop it.
"That's better," Wilson said. "Please is much better. Now I'll stop."



  1. Ahh, you went the route of the classics! Unfortunately, I haven't read any of these, though I want to read some of them someday. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, however, has a classic, very popular opening line, and I've heard A WRINKLE TIME is good. Thanks for stopping by!

    Rachel @ Beauty and the Bookshelf

  2. LOVE a Wrinkle in Time. A dark and stormy night is never cliche in Madeline's hands. I do love P&P, too. That opening sentences is one of my favorites (as is the rest of the book). Brave New World is awesome, too. It has been years since I read that one. Great list!

  3. We think so alike haha! Half our openings are from the same series. I've only read Jane Eyre out of the endings though :/

  4. Sadly, I have read very few of these classics - P&P, Wrinkle and I THINK I read Ulysses for a college class. The first two are favorites, though, especially that opening "It was a dark and stormy night." How can you NOT love it?!

    As for Stephen King, I have yet to make it through the first few chapters (let alone all the way to the end) of one of his terrifying tales. I'm too chicken. :)

    Great list!
    Erin @ YA Book Crush

  5. I LOVE the beginning of Pride and Prejudice. It's so iconic, and now I hear it in Ashley Clement's voice from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, haha. And Wrinkle in Time is awesome, of course. :)

    Sara at The Page Sage


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...