My dear, you SHOULD give a damn

in Fiction by

Lists are everywhere. Books are everywhere. So it makes sense that lists about books are omnipresent. There are lists of the best books ever written, the worst books ever written, the books you should read before you die, the books you should read to make sure you never die (immortal vampires, anyone?), and everything in between.

I hate to be the one to break it to you that it is impossible for you to read all the books currently in publication, let alone the thousands coming down the pike. Even with that new-fangled app that purports to let you read a novel in 90 minutes (that’s a gripe for another time), you simply won’t get to turn every page of every book. But you can at least sound moderately well read when you toss a literary quotation or two into everyday conversation.

Best Of 200In this continuing series, BookTrib brings you 50 of the most memorable lines in literature. For five weeks, we’ll bring you ten bite-size pieces of literature for you to digest and regurgitate at parties, trivia nights, or to your cat. Like all lists, this one is arbitrary and by its very nature (remember the bit about it being impossible to read every book ever written?) not all-inclusive. We welcome your suggestions in the comments. What lines are seared into your memory, whether because you loved the book or because you had to memorize it for eighth grade English class and it just won’t leave your head?

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

Sure, you know the general story of surly, erudite New York teen Holden Caulfield. But could you pick the opening sentence out of a literary line-up? Now you can.

“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.”

Catcher 175

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Are you looking for something literary and clever to a) write in your diary the night after your wedding or b) use as a Facebook status update to let everyone know that you got hitched? Take a hint from a Brontë (there are several, but Charlotte is your woman here).

“Reader, I married him.”

Jane Eyre 200

3. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville

Sure, there’s the white whale and Captain Ahab, but if you need a clever opening line (or want to give a fake name to some creepy dude chatting you up at the bar), look no further than the first sentence of Melville’s classic of the sea.

“Call me Ishmael.”

Moby Dick 200

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Is everyone (read: your mother) on your back about not getting married yet? Do you need a witty retort about the state of men? Austen has you covered. (Really, you could just hand over a boxed set of her novels, but this might be easier on short notice.)

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

Pride and Prejudice 200

5. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

We’re getting trickier here. Sure, you probably can’t pronounce the fictional Mississippi county where Faulkner set his novels (if you want to practice, it’s Yoknapatawpha County, or “Yok’na-pa-TAW-pha” phonetically). That’s okay. Sound mysterious and deep with this bit from one his best-known novels (bonus points: casually mention that another Faulkner classic, The Sound and the Fury, takes its name from a line in Shakespeare’s Macbeth):

“My mother is a fish.”

As I Lay Dying 200

6. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

While we’re on the subject of families, if you’re in the mood to complain about yours, best to do it with a dash of that cheeriest of Russian storytellers on your side:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna K cover 175

7. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Perhaps you really do just want to let someone know that you’ll tackle to task of picking up flowers (especially if you’re prone to speaking in the third person). Or maybe you mean so much more:

“Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.”

Mrs. Dalloway 200

8. A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

You’re pretty sure you know the gist of this one—it was good, it was bad, then some other stuff happened—but don’t you want to impress everyone with your ability to rattle off this mouthful of an opening sentence verbatim?

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Tale of Two Cities 200

9. Beloved by Toni Morrison

You think your house is bad? We doubt it’s as bad as the setting for Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, but if you’re going to make comparisons, this deceptively powerful first sentence is a must for your arsenal:

“124 was spiteful.”

Beloved 200

10. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Be that person who brings magical realism back into common conversation! Also, this is a clever way to remind whomever it is you’re speaking to that the party is getting low on ice:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

One Hundred Years 200

What lines from literature stick in your head? Let us know in the comments and maybe we’ll use one in a future post! 

Image Credits:

Featured Image: http://blogs.reuters.com/gregg-easterbrook/files/2011/11/books.jpg

Cover Image: Evan Bench, https://secure.flickr.com/photos/austinevan/1225274637/

Best Of: http://www.mountainjackpot.com/2014/01/09/best-of-teller-county-and-the-ute-pass/

Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.

2 Comments

  1. “In defence of your protege you can even be saucy.” – Loved this line from Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility

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