Try These for Openers

By Richard Lederer

April 4-10 marks National Library Week, this year’s theme being “Welcome to Your Library.” Some book starters are so famously effective that readers can look at them and identify the literary works they lead off. Identify the novel or short story started by each passage.

  1. Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Auntie Em, who was the farmer’s wife. — L. Frank Baum
  2. All children, except one, grow up. — James M. Barrie
  3. You don’t know about me without you have read a book called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. — Mark Twain
  4. Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do. — Lewis Carroll
  5. Call me Ishmael. — Herman Melville
  6. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. — Jane Austen
  7. It was love at first sight. — Joseph Heller
  8. What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died? — Erich Segal
  9. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much. They were the last people you’d expect to be involved in anything strange or mysterious, because they just didn’t hold with such nonsense. — J.K. Rowling
  10. 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. — Charles Dickens
  11. It was Wang Lung’s marriage day. — Pearl Buck
  12. “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. — Louisa May Alcott
  13. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth. — John Steinbeck
  14. One of the very first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet where Luca is standing. — Jeanine Cummins
  15. James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat back in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death. — Ian Fleming
  16. Renowned curator Jacques Saunière staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum’s Grand Gallery. — Dan Brown
  17. As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed into a giant insect. — Franz Kafka
  18. Buck did not read the newspapers or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. — Jack London
  19. When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. — Harper Lee
  20. He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish. — Ernest Hemingway



  1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
  2. Peter Pan
  3. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  5. Moby Dick
  6. Pride and Prejudice
  7. Catch-22
  8. Love Story
  9. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
  10. A Tale of Two Cities
  11. The Good Earth
  12. Little Women
  13. The Grapes of Wrath
  14. American Dirt
  15. Goldfinger
  16. The Da Vinci Code
  17. “The Metamorphosis”
  18. The Call of the Wild
  19. To Kill a Mockingbird
  20. The Old Man and the Sea

Dr. Richard Lederer is the author of more than 50 books about language, history and humor, including his newest books, “A Treasury of Halloween Humor” and “A Treasury of Christmas Humor.” To order signed copies, explore his website, or write him Richard Lederer at