First Impressions—Flashback Edition

I couldn’t find any exceptional openers among the ARCs I received this week, so I decided to go back and look at the opening passages from three of my favorite novels to see whether each was as good as the rest of the book. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, translated by Lucia Graves

I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time. It was the early summer of 1945, and we walked through the streets of a Barcelona trapped beneath ashen skies as dawn poured over Rambla de Santa Mónica in a wreath of liquid copper.

“Daniel, you mustn’t tell anyone what you’re about to see today,” my father warned. “Not even your friend Tomás. No one.”

I think this is a good indicator of what’s to come, though it’s only a tiny hint of the wondrous, mysterious world readers are about to enter. It had me at Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Is there really such a place? Why can’t Daniel tell anyone? Isn’t that how the books became forgotten in the first place, because people stopped talking about them? Regardless, I totally wanted in on the secret, and to go there and unforget all the books. Note: A sequel, The Prisoner of Heaven, comes out July 10!

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Libby Day


I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ. Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it. It’s the Day blood. Something’s wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders. Little Orphan Libby grew up sullen and boneless, shuffled around a group of lesser relatives—second cousins and great-aunts and friends of friends—stuck in a series of mobile homes or rotting ranch houses all across Kansas. Me going to school in my dead sisters’ hand-me-downs: shirts with mustardy armpits. Pants with baggy bottoms, comically loose, held on with a raggedy belt cinched to the farthest hole. In class photos my hair was always crooked—barrettes hanging loosely from strands, as if they were airborne objects caught in the tangles—and I always had bulging pockets under my eyes, drunk-landlady eyes. Maybe a grudging curve of the lips where a smile should be. Maybe.

There’s so much good stuff here, where do I start? A little girl with drunk-landlady eyes? A meanness inside her belly that’s meaty and dark and slithering? It’s so creepy but there was no way I could stop reading. Flynn writes nasty characters you can’t peel your eyes from, even if their vileness deserves to be stomped on. To read my full review of this, go here. You can also check out the opening of Flynn’s upcoming Gone Girl here.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


CLARE: It’s hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. It’s hard to be the one who stays.

I keep myself busy. Time goes faster that way.

I go to sleep alone, and wake up alone. I take walks. I work until I’m tired. I watch the wind play with the trash that’s been under the snow all winter. Everything seems simple until you think about it. Why is love intensified by absence?

This may not be a throat-grabbing opener, but it evokes a sense of longing that drew me in. I too wondered where Henry is. Why did he leave Clare? Is he coming back? Is he okay? These questions—and the title—made me read on, a good thing since I ended up swooning over it, completely caught up in the heartbreaking, impossible relationship between the lovers.

Have you read any of these? Do these openers make you want to?

Happy Friday!



  • Reply
    Naomi Johnson
    June 1, 2012 at 6:57 am

    Wow, no wonder these are among your faves. Great openings, all of them.

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 4, 2012 at 2:07 am

      I was afraid when I looked them up that they somehow wouldn’t hold up. I needn’t have worried.

    • Reply
      Mark Sheehan
      July 7, 2012 at 5:37 pm

      Grab a copy of the new book from Norb Vonnegut if you like opeing grabbers; I got a review copy and its not, my type of book but I landed on the sofa and only put the thing down to use the head, top off my coffee cup and feed the dog… I’ve now gone baack in to read the other Vonnegut books and I think he holds a formula for locking and loading readers from the start. Mark in Sydney Australia

  • Reply
    June 1, 2012 at 8:05 am

    All three great openings, nice to see they lived up. I’ve read two of the three. Dark Places was a throat-grabber (and I don’t find that happens to me that often) and I found myself highlighting like a madwoman from page 1. TTW I read long ago, so don’t really remember the opening, but it would make me want to read the book if I were looking at it for the first time.

    SOTW. As you know, this one is in my TBR. In fact, it’s going on the next cycle of my PCN-inspired (nay, imposed?) reading regime. This opening makes me even more interested to get there.

    Thanks for the look back!

    • Reply
      Pop Culture Nerd
      June 4, 2012 at 2:09 am

      Oh, good to hear you’re moving it up! Then you can move right on to Prisoner of Heaven. Which is lucky, since I had to wait years.

  • Reply
    jenn aka the picky girl
    June 11, 2012 at 4:15 pm

    I’ve read the first and third (and actually got Prisoner of Heaven last week) and loved them.

    That Gillian Flynn DEFINITELY grabs me, and I’ve heard such good things about her, I need to get busy and read her!

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