As promised, here are the answers to the “first lines” challenge I posted on Thanksgiving. Click here if you’d like to try to guess some of the books before reading the answers below.
1. Do you want my recipe for disaster? The warning sign: last year, Thanksgiving at their house.
—A.M. Homes, May We Be Forgiven, Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2013
2. I was leaning against the bar in a speakeasy on Fifty-Second Street, waiting for Nora to finish her Christmas shopping, when a girl got up from the table where she had been sitting with three other people and came over to me.
—Dashiell Hammett, The Thin Man
3. I will begin the story of my adventures with a certain morning early in the month of June, the year of grace 1751, when I took the key for the last time out of the door of my father’s house.
—Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped
4. Gabcík—that’s his name—really did exist.
—Laurent Binet, HHhH, Prix Goncourt du Premier Roman in 2010, French-American Foundation Translation Prize Nominee in 2013
5. He came over the top of the down as the last light failed and could almost have cried with relief at sight of the wood below. He longed to fling himself down on the short and stubbly grass and stare at it, the dark comforting shadow which he had hardly hoped to see.
—Graham Greene, The Man Within
6. Lost in the shadows of the shelves, I almost fall off the ladder. I am exactly halfway up. The floor of the bookstore is far below me, the surface of a planet I’ve left behind.
—Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
7. The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.
—Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
8. You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.
—Alice Walker, The Color Purple
9. His children are falling from the sky. He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop, gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze.
—Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies, Man Booker Prize in 2012
10. In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabit a castle, or schloss. A small income, in that part of the world, goes a great way.
—J. S. Le Fanu, Carmilla
11. In the winter of 1417, Poggio Bracciolini rode through the wooded hills and valleys of southern Germany toward his distant destination, a monastery reputed to have a cache of old manuscripts.
—Stephen Greenblatt, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, Pulitzer Prize for Non-Fiction in 2012
12. Though Robin Ellacott’s twenty-five years of life had seen their moments of drama and incident, she had never before woken up in the certain knowledge that she would remember the coming day for as long as she lived.
—Robert Galbraith (aka J. K. Rowling), The Cuckoo’s Calling
Double-Secret-Probation Bonus Round:
Clue #1, Prologue: Four o’clock on the First of November, a dark and foggy day. Sixteen characters in search of an author.
Clue #2, Chapter 1: There is a certain room in the Tate Gallery which, in these unregenerate days, is used more as a passage-way towards the French pictures collected by Sir Joseph Duveen than as an objective in itself. There must be many lovers of painting who have hurried through it countless times and who would to be unable to name or even to describe a single one of the flowerings of Victorian culture which hang there, so thoroughly does the human mind reject those impressions for which it has no use.
Answer: Nancy Mitford, Christmas Pudding
Look for reviews and comments on these selections and more in my traditional “Year in Books” post at the end of the month.