First Lines: Socially Acceptable Books for Grown-Ups (or SABGUS)


Another post in my First Lines series. Yes, it is here. Novels that are acceptable to discuss at dinner parties.

My choices for First Lines: SABGUS are varied. Please feel free to think of this post as a platter of fine cheeses. Some are light and spreadable, some are solid and must be sliced with a chainsaw. I don’t love all the cheeses. *gasp* What?!

It’s true.

In fact, I will be completely honest with you here and say that I haven’t even read some of these books. A few were taken from my TBR pile (which is not getting any smaller). Also, I raided my husband’s bookshelf to get some of these fabulous firsts and am not sorry one bit. They are marvelous, if not my particular cup of cocoa, and I had a splendid time reading through them. Some of these first lines, though, do belong to favorite books of mine and it was wonderful visiting them again.

For your dining pleasure, I bring you First Lines: SABGUS.


“I vaguely remember my schooldays. They were what was going on in the background while I was trying to listen to the Beatles.”

The Salmon of Doubt by Douglas Adams


“Tap-dancing child abuser. That’s what the Sunday New York Times from March 8, 1993, had called Viva.”

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells


“It’s morning. For now, night is over. It’s time for the bad news. I think of the bad news as a huge bird, with the wings of a crow and the face of my Grade Four schoolteacher, sparse bun, rancid teeth, wrinkly frown, pursed mouth and all, sailing around the world under cover of darkness, pleased to be the bearer of ill tidings, carrying a basket of rotten eggs, and knowing – as the sun comes up – exactly where to drop them. On me, for one.”

Moral Disorder by Margaret Atwood


“Out of the gravel there are peonies growing. They come up through the loose grey pebbles, their buds testing the air like snails’ eyes, then swelling and opening, huge dark-red flowers all shining and glossy like satin. Then they burst and fall to the ground.”

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood


“A smear of fresh blood has a metallic smell. It smells like freshly sheared copper.”

A Deadly Shade of Gold by John D. MacDonald


“My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes. She sees those who have died and now dwell in the World of Yin, ghosts who leave the mists just to visit her kitchen on Balboa Street in San Francisco.”

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan


“The flash projected the outline of the hanged man onto the wall.”

The Club Dumas by Arturo Perez-Reverte


“The scent and smoke and sweat of a casino are nauseating at three in the morning. Then the soul-erosion produced by high gambling – a compost of greed and fear and nervous tension – becomes unbearable and the senses awake and revolt from it.”

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming


“Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.”

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens


“My friend Patsy was telling me a story. ‘So I’m at the movie theater,’ she said, ‘and I’ve got my coat all neatly laid out against the back of my seat, when the guy comes along—’ And here I stopped her, because I’ve always wondered about this coat business. When I’m in a theater, I either fold mine in my lap or throw it over my armrest, but Patsy always spreads hers out, acting as if the seat back were cold, and she couldn’t possibly enjoy herself while it was suffering.”

When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris


“It is a relatively little-known fact that, over the course of a single year, about twenty million letters are delivered to the dead.”

The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris


“I come from Des Moines. Somebody had to. When you come from Des Moines you either accept the fact without question and settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever, or you spend your adolescence moaning at length about what a dump it is and how you can’t wait to get out, and then you settle down with a local girl named Bobbi and get a job at the Firestone factory and live there forever and ever.”

The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson


“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


“In the world of humankind, the tides of power are turning… To me, the seasons of men go by in moments, but from time to time a flicker will attract my attention.”

Lady of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley  


“On the day after my mother’s death, I returned to 83 Beals Street for the first time in fifteen years. I had stolen something from there when I was nine years old and kept it long after my reasons for holding on to it has lost their urgency.”

An Uncommon Education by Elizabeth Percer  


“It was about eleven o’clock in the morning, mid October, with the sun not shining and a look of hard wet rain in the clearness of the foothills. I was wearing my powder-blue suit, with dark blue shirt, tie and display handkerchief, black brogues, black wool socks with dark blue clocks on them. I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler



First Lines SABGUS


Next up:

First Lines: Picture Books

As a reader (and a writer) how important are first lines to you?


26 thoughts on “First Lines: Socially Acceptable Books for Grown-Ups (or SABGUS)

  1. My favourite is the second Margaret Atwood Alias Grace then probably Douglas Adams with Hitchhikers Guide. Otherwise, I’m back to the young adult first lines all of which hit me. Mind you, these were all good (and far better than I can do) but they didn’t have the impact of your last list. I wait with baited breath for the picture books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Don’t be. At. All. I admitted I haven’t read some. You’re too busy writing. For which I am grateful. ❤ But I do think you'd get a kick out of some of these… The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy maybe? And the Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. Have Kleenex nearby.


  2. I am a HUGE Douglas Adams fan…
    just thought would leave that there

    OMG the Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy sometimes I feel like an Arthur Dent laying in front of a yellow bulldozer to save my home hahaha


    Liked by 1 person

  3. Out of your selection I have read one (A Christmas Carol), started and discarded one (Hitchhiker’s Guide – Monty Python meets Star Trek, neither of which is my cup of tea), and intrigued to read the one by Joanne Harris that I haven’t read (have read a selection of hers). My favourite opening (after Joanne Harris’s) was the one to the other Douglas Adams novel – not sure that I would try it though. Opening lines are important, but what happens after must sustain its promise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha! I have never, in all my life, heard Douglas Adams described as “Monty Python meets Star Trek”. 😀 I love The Hitchhiker’s Guide but that’s the beauty. Everyone’s tastes are different. What a boring world it would be if not, eh? I do think you’d like Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, though. Agreed. The rest of the book must hold up to that first impression — it usually does, though not always.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s funny that you haven’t heard Hitchhiker described in that way. After I ‘tried’ reading it, I made that comment to a few others and they agreed that that’s exactly what it was like. Unlike me, they were Python fans and Trekkers too! I thought I hadn’t been all that original in my summation!
        Thanks for the recommendation of the Divine Secrets. I’ll have to try to remember it in the future. I’ve a few others on my list for now.
        And as you say – it is a good thing we are all different, but it is nice to make connections sometimes too! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  4. You’ve hit upon such a great series. Not only is it interesting, but I’m finding it informative, too. I’m reminded why I like Margaret Atwood and Ian Fleming and happy to find both in your line up, feeling that it’s an odd mix of authors, those two. It seems adult books have a stiffer start than ones for middle school. Why did we get so serious?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I tried to mix it up a bit here. 🙂 True. And you are so right. That’s the perfect word: stiff. Some first lines are so beautifully written but they have lost the “fun”, the…sparkle of MG books. I try, especially with writing, not to take myself too seriously. Therefore I shall neva be included in “literary fiction” and I don’t care. I guess I should, but I don’t.

      Liked by 1 person

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