2.11.2010

Beginnings

The other night at my writing class, we examined the beginnings of a number of stories. A beginning's job is to make you keep reading. A writer's job is to write a good beginning.

I finished a book last night and this morning I spread out a few on the bed to decide which to bring on the subway. I read their beginnings. And this one hit me in the gut:

They were young, educated, and both virgins on this, their wedding night, and they lived in a time when a conversation about sexual difficulties was plainly impossible. But it is never easy.

Hoo boy! I have never really loved Ian McEwan, but On Chesil Beach started out with these killer sentences. One long one filled with commas and adjectives and then a tiny little short one. Juxtaposing "impossible" with "easy." Virgins and wedding nights and sexual difficulties. Quite the beginning- I was hooked.

There's something to be said for giving a book 20 or 50 or even 100 pages to get good. Some great books warm up slowly. But those quick start beginnings... always a good indication that your subway ride is about to fly by.

Note: Sometimes when I'm reading other blogs, I want to comment and add something to the conversation, but it feels too random to just add a thought. I'm going to start adding "Fun Interactive Thing" at the end of posts from time to time to encourage you to share something relevant here. Heads up, here comes the first one...

Fun Interactive Thing
: comment with the beginning of the book you're reading!

4 comments:

Britt said...

"What should we have for dinner?
"This book is a long and fairly involved answer to this seemingly simple question. Along the way, it also tries to figure out how such a simple question could have ever gotten so complicated. As a culture we seem to have arrived at a place where whatever native wisdom we may once have possessed about eating has been replaced by confusion and anxiety. Somehow this most elemental of activities--figuring out what to eat--has come to require a remarkable amount of expert help. How did we ever get to a point where we need investigative journalists to tell us where our food comes from and nutritionists to determine the dinner menu?"

The Omnivore's Dilemma
by Michael Pollan

Sima said...

"Even now, six years after the generals loosened their hold on Argentina, after their manicured hands were pried away from the delicate white throats of the disappeareds and the doors of certain buildings were closed and locked, even now Carlos Rueda's gift retains it's mystery". I'm not reading it at the moment but this is the first line of one of my favorite books- Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton- and what I love about it is how incredibly visual it is. I read that first sentence and BAM!, my imagination was swimming with images and colors and questions that I wanted answered and so began my journey into the unknown. As you mentioned in relation to On Chesil Beach, part of what drew me in was the juxtaposition- in this case between very palpable imagery and the elusive subject matter.

Erica said...

I just want to leave a comment (the book i'm reading isn't a novel, it's called "mobilization, participation, and democracy in america", so it's not worth writing about!).

It's SO WEIRD that you just wrote about that book. I *just* bought it as a present for Marie-Laure, Damien's roommate!

ev said...

"He has the ability to imagine himself a minor incident in the lives of others. It is not an abstract thing. He would not know quite what you meant by 'abstract': he is twelve. He simply knows that if he imagines swimming in the sea, well, while most children will think immediately of the cinematic shark below them, Alex-Li Tandem is with the lifeguard. He can see himself as that smudge on the horizon, his head mistaken for a bobbing buoy; his wild arms hidden by the roll of the surf."

(the following sentences are even better, but i'll leave them for you to read!)

-The Autograph Man by Zadie Smith