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Part One: Book Choice Paralysis And My Effort To Triumph Over This Bookish Plague

Let me start off by saying I’m in awe of anyone who can decisively pick their tbr for the month and stick to it. First, how do you narrow it down? Second, how do you narrow it down? And third, HOW. DO. YOU. NARROW. IT. DOWN?!?

My idea for this project was inspired in part by a few booktube videos. One of my favourite booktubers, Jack Edwards, posted a video where he attempted to guess iconic opening lines of books and Ariel Bissett (another fav) tier ranked Classic Books on their first lines. Fun, right? Ashley and I had discussed previously how some readers decide on whether or not to pick up a book based off how impactful the beginning of the novel is to them. A baby of an idea started percolating as I reflected how little I consider the opening lines of a book. Consciously, at least. It’s very rare that I stop and think how amazing the first few sentences of a book are. Usually, I am drawn to pick up a book based off the title, cover, and then the synopsis. However, how much am I influenced by the beginning of a story? How much does it set the tone of my enjoyment? Are the opening lines necessary foreplay for an amazing reading experience?

In an article on, they state:

“The first lines of a novel or short story must grab the reader’s attention, enticing them to continue past the first page and continue reading. The first sentence provides you with an opportunity to showcase your writing style, introduce your main character, or establish the inciting incident of your narrative.”[i]

I’m not an author or an expert by any stretch of the imagination. Grammar and sentence structure, who? My basis for establishing whether or not the opening sentences of the novel are “good” is whether or not I’m hooked— or as Masterclass puts it, enticed. Before I get into my choices, I want to preface by saying this is a purely subjective project and does not have any bearing on the talent of the author, and whether or not I believe the opening is well written.

Like many book collectors and readers, I have a massive to be read pile. The number of books I want to pick up can be a bit overwhelming at times. To help me decide what to read over the next busy weeks before and during back to school, I grabbed piles of my tbr and read aloud the first paragraph in each. If I was captured by the opening, I moved it to the left, if I was underwhelmed, I moved the novel to the right. Next, I ranked the piles from highest to lowest in terms of engagement. Then I took eight of the favourites from the left, and eight of the bottoms from the right. To narrow down even more, I read the opening lines to my devoted (and not at all coerced) husband to see which ones he thought were the most and least captivating. We got it down to four from each pile. And THEN, because I’m extremely indecisive, I read these to Ashley and her husband to cut out two more books from each pile.

And voila! I have four books total to read over the next few weeks. I can usually read 6-8 books per month, but September is an extremely busy month for me at my day job and my kiddos go back to school. Four is plenty. And now, as I like to think RuPaul would say…Who are the tops and who are the bottoms?


1) Nevernight by Jay Kristoff (Published 2016; Approx. 428 Pages)

Opening Paragraph:

“People often shit themselves when they die”.

Uhm, colour me intrigued. I’m not sure why we’re discussing people shitting themselves when they die, but I want to know why. It’s a bold voice and a bold beginning that I think would make some people put the book away, but I can’t help but think they won’t be forgetting it any time soon. And for that reason, it stayed in my top pile even as I whittled the choices down.

I’ve never read anything by Jay Kristoff before, but he’s highly reviewed and I’m trying to get back into reading fantasy.

Here’s the book synopsis for the curious:

“In a world where the suns almost never set, a woman gains entry to a school of infamous assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers that destroyed her family. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she wanders a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and its thugs. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the hearth of a retired killer and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. Deadly trials await her within the Church’s halls: blades and poisons, treachery and death. If she survives to initiation, she’ll be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder and be one step closer to the only thing she desires: revenge”

2) Ivory by Mike Resnick (Published 1988; approx. 374 pages)

Opening Paragraph:

“I had many names”.

This opening surprised me. Primarily, I was surprised because my husband recommended Ivory to me years ago and normally, we aren’t on the same bookish wavelengths. Second, it’s science fiction and I rarely ever gravitate to that genre. However, as soon as I read this first sentence, I wanted to sit down in a cozy corner and find out more about this character. Why did he/she have many names? Oh, it’s a simple start and a good ‘un.

Book Synopsis:

“It is the year 6303 of the Galactic Era, and Duncan Rojas, Senior Researcher and Authenticator for Braxton’s Records of Big Game, has received a most unusual visitor. He is Bukoba Mandaka—the last of the Maasai. He searches for Malima Temboz, the Mountain That Walks…known to the world as the Kilimanjaro Elephant. His bones are but dust. His spirit remains, restless and incomplete—His spirit, and somewhere in the vast reaches of the Galaxy, his tusks…

Bukoba Mandaka must find those tusks, and find them soon.

Rojas cannot resist the challenge. And the quest soon becomes his own, as he begins to catch a glimpse of the elusive power of ancient Africa and the magic surrounding the greatest hunting trophy ever taken.

Honorary Top Mention:

3) The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld

Opening Paragraph:

“This is an enchanted place. Others don’t see it but I do”.

I loved, loved, LOVED The Child Finder by Rene Denfeld, so this book was tough not to pick. Something about her writing is magical for me. Don’t worry, I’ll be picking up this book soon.


1) Hamnet & Judith by Maggie O’Farrell (Published 2020; Approx. 367 pages)

Opening Paragraph:

“A boy is coming down a flight of stairs.

The passage is narrow and twists back on itself. He takes each step slowly, sliding himself along the walk, his books meeting each treat with a thud”.

As I stated earlier, being in the bottom is in no way a reflection on the author’s talent or writing skill. To be a “bottom”, I had to feel like the opening line didn’t really give me a hook or immediately entice me to continue reading. I’ve wanted to pick up Hamnet for close to a year now, ever since I kept being told by coworkers how much they loved it. One of those coworkers adores any story that is devastating, which does concern me as I have a hard time reading sad books. In terms of how the story begins, I do feel like it falls within the purely informational category. We need to be introduced to the boy and his journey, but as an opening, it’s no people shitting themselves when they die. I’m still excited to read it though as I’m fascinated by the Tudor time period.

Book Synopsis:

“England, 1580: The Black Death creeps across the land, an ever-present threat, infecting the healthy, the sick, the old and the young alike. The end of days is near, but life always goes on. A young Latin tutor—penniless and bullied by a violent father—falls in love with an extraordinary, eccentric young woman. Agnes is a wild creature who walks her family’s land with a falcon on her glove and is known throughout the countryside for her unusual gifts as a healer, understanding plants and potions better than she does people. Once she settles with her husband on Henley Street in Stratford-upon-Avon, she becomes a fiercely protective mother and a steadfast, centrifugal force in the life of her young husband, whose career on the London stage is just taking off when his beloved young son succumbs to sudden fever.”[ii]

2) The Institute by Stephen King (Published 2019; Approx. 557 pages)

Opening Paragraph:

“Half an hour after Tim Jamieson’s Delta flight was scheduled to leave Tampa for the bright lights and tall buildings of New York, it was still parked at the gate. When a Delta agent and a blond woman with a security badge hanging around her neck entered the cabin, there were unhappy, premonitory murmurings from the packed residents of economy class”

NO ONE HURT ME. Stephen King is one of the greats, and yes, we should all bow down to his artistry and craft. For me, this opening did set the scene and provided some basic information. If I am going off the first paragraph alone though, it’s not memorable, but I don’t think it’s necessarily meant to be. Based on other King novels, I know it will be masterful and suck me in sooner rather than later. For this pick, when I was reading it to Ashley and Chris, I was happy to get their unbiased opinion since they had no idea what books I was reading from as I narrowed down my picks.

Book Synopsis:

In the middle of the night, in a house on a quiet street in suburban Minneapolis, intruders silently murder Luke Ellis’s parents and load him into a black SUV. The operation takes less than two minutes. Luke will wake up at The Institute, in a room that looks just like his own, except there’s no window. And outside his door are other doors, behind which are other kids with special talents—telekinesis and telepathy—who got to this place the same way Luke did: Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon. They are all in Front Half. Others, Luke learns, graduated to Back Half, “like the roach motel,” Kalisha says. “You check in, but you don’t check out.” In this most sinister of institutions, the director, Mrs. Sigsby, and her staff are ruthlessly dedicated to extracting from these children the force of their extranormal gifts. There are no scruples here. If you go along, you get tokens for the vending machines. If you don’t, punishment is brutal. As each new victim disappears to Back Half, Luke becomes more and more desperate to get out and get help. But no one has ever escaped from the Institute.[iii]

Pre-Read Ranking:

Now that I have my picks, I plan on reading them over the next month and seeing if the opening lines have any correlation to my overall enjoyment of the book. Probably not, but hey, at least it’s helped me pick from my massive pile of books! I’ve ranked them from my favourite openings to my least favourite and in the next article, I will let you know where they sit after I’ve finished reading them. Stay tuned!

Top to Bottom Ranking

1) Ivory

2) Nevernight

3) The Institute

4) Hamnet & Judith

[i] [ii] [iii]

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