The First Sentence: J. D. Salinger, Miranda July, Jim Carroll & More

J. D. Salinger wrote one of the 'first sentences' printed below.
J. D. Salinger wrote one ‘first sentence’ printed below.

Not all my posts are about music. This one is about writing. Actually, it’s about how writers begin novels and short stories. I’ve collected a selection of ‘first sentence,’ although in some cases it’s the first paragraph. Enjoy.

The First Sentence

1 Today was my first Biddy League game and my first day in any organized basketball league. I’m enthused about life due to this exciting event. The Biddy League is a league for anyone 12 yrs. old or under. I’m actually 13 but my coach Lefty gave me a fake birth certificate. Lefty is a great guy; he picks us up for games in his station wagon and always buys us tons of food. I’m too young to understand about homosexuals but I think he is one.

2 She was on her knees and rubbing her back against parts of the house and backing into corners and sliding out from under curtains, rump polishing the floor, and she was saying, “Sit with me, Alice.” She was saying, “Talk to me. Be a daughter. Tell me what you’ve been doing.” She spoke uninflectedly, as if thinking of something else – the dishes to do, drawers to line, clotted screens to clean out with a toothpick. Handles missing, silver gone, and a Walter in the next room unwilling to leave!

3 “A huge wave nearly swept me away,” said the seventh man, almost whispering. “It happened one September afternoon when I was ten years old.”

The man was the last one to tell his story that night. The hands of the clock had moved past ten. The small group that huddled in a circle could hear the wind tearing through the darkness outside heading west. It shook the trees, set the windows to rattling, and moved past the house with one final whistle.

4 If it made any real sense – and it doesn’t even begin to – I think I might be inclined to dedicate this account, for whatever it’s worth, especially if it’s the least bit ribald in parts, to the memory of my late, ribald stepfather, Robert Agadganian, Jr.

5 Three Indians were standing out in front of the post office that hot summer morning when the motorcycle blazed down Walnut Street and caused Mel Weatherwax to back his pickup truck over the cowboy who was loading sacks of lime.

6 You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

7 One night I was sitting on the bed in my hotel room on Bunker Hill, down in the very middle of Los Angeles. It was an important night in my life, because I had to make a decision about the hotel. Either I paid up or I got out: that was what the note said, the note the landlady had put under my door. A great problem, deserving acute attention. I solved it by turning out the lights and going to bed.

8 I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road.

9 In an ideal world, we would have been orphans. We felt like orphans and we felt deserving of the pity that orphans get, but embarrassingly enough, we had parents. I even had two. They would never let me go, so I didn’t say goodbye; I packed a tiny bag and left a note.

10 When you pass the runover deer in the car, crows start squawking. The deer lies up high on a snowbank, all four legs sticking up in the air at the edge of the road, right at the spot where I come out of the woods on my snowshoes. A doe. I trudge up to her and turn her over. One side is already torn up, an eye is missing. Tracks of coyote and fox lead up to and away from the animal in all directions.

In the woods I’m illiterate.

11 When I am run down and flocked around by the world, I go down to Farte Cove off the Yazoo River and take my beer to the end of the pier where the old liars are still snapping and wheezing at one another.

12 A screaming comes across the sky. It happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now.

It is too late. The Evacuation still proceeds, but it’s all theatre. There are no lights inside the cars. No light anywhere. Above him lift girders as an iron queen, and glass somewhere far above that would let the light of day through. But it’s night. He’s afraid of the way the glass will fall – soon – it will be a spectacle: the fall of a crystal palace.

13 The first time I saw him he couldn’t have been more than sixteen years old, a little ferret of a kid, sharp and quick. Sammy Glick. Used to run copy for me. Always ran. Always looked thirsty.

14 When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.

And here are the writer’s and the books or stories where I found those first sentences.

1 Jim Carroll, The Basketball Diaries

2 Christine Schutt, Florida

3 Haruki Murakami, The Seventh Man

4 J. D. Salinger, De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period

5 Don Carpenter, Hard Rain Falling

6 Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

7 John Fante, Ask the Dust

8 Jack Kerouac, On the Road

9 Miranda July, Something That Needs Nothing

10 Verena Stefan, Doe a Deer

11 Barry Hannah, Water Liars

12 Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

13 Budd Schulberg, What Makes Sammy Run?

14 Saul Bellow, Seize the Day

About Michael Goldberg

Michael Goldberg is a distinguished pioneer in the online music space; Newsweek magazine called him an ‘Internet visionary.’ In 1994 he founded Addicted To Noise (ATN), the highly influential music web site. He was a senior vice-president and editor in chief at SonicNet from March 1997 through May 2000. In 1997, Addicted To Noise won Webby awards for best music site in 1998 and 1999, and also won Yahoo Internet Life! awards for three years running as best music site in 1998, 1999 and 2000. Prior to starting Addicted To Noise, Goldberg was an editor and senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine for 10 years. His writing has also appeared in Wired, Esquire, Vibe, Details, Downbeat, NME and numerous other publications. Michael recently completed his first novel, Days of the Crazy-Wild, and is currently writing a second novel.

Leave a Reply