Wednesday, January 27, 2010

first lines

First lines are important. Opening lines can grab you immediately and pull you into a story, making you drop what you should be doing--like marking papers or pulling laundry out of the washing machine so you do not forgot to take it out like you sometimes do.. Opening lines call out to you: read.

First lines of a novel or short story are laboured over, or perhaps they come to the writer unasked, surprising her or him.

My sister asked me if I was going to get a Kindle.

Absolutely not, I said. I spend enough time staring at a screen.

The glare and the scrolling and scanning and jumping about promote lack of concentration on words and ideas. Kindle is the opposite of sinking yourself into a book. Of paying close attention to extended ruminations. To me, Kindle and e-reading are anti-yoga. Being in the moment is illusive in our fragmentary schizophrenic e-reading. Will the Kindle promote slowing down and reflecting on words or more of the anxious leaping through bits and pieces of people's thoughts?

The 'hyper' in hyperlink is just that--makes for hyperactive disconnected anxious reading. Being fragmented is not necessarily good for the spirit.

Although there can be benefits to online reading and to a Kindle, nothing can replace a book. The handling of books. The silk of covers and pages. Books have a presence. A book is like a small door that you hold in your hand. A threshold place where you enter the words of an author. I may be wrong, but somehow the idea of a Kindle in your hands would not encourage a similar communion with the author. The text is mediated through digital technology and that is much different than paper technology.

With all your books on a Kindle, how would you savor the moment of reading all the first lines of a pile of new books on your table?

Here are the first lines of the books I received in the mail this morning:

"I'm thinking about you now instead of following Zemzem's example and inching forward on all fours so the gunman doesn't see me, or clutching the prayer beads like my grandmother and praying to God and His prophets for all I'm worth." Beirut Blues a novel by Hanan al-Shaykh

"Umm Hassan is dead." Gate of the Sun. Elias Khoury

"Sitting in this bus I am, as in any vehicle, be it plane, train, truck, or boat, myself an object in a magic container whose inner sides are at this moment in a state of suspension." Master of the Eclipse. by Etal Adnan

"Ten thousand bombs had landed, and I was waiting for George." DeNiro's Game by Rawi Hage.


Merche Pallarés said...

In Spain we're also having debates on the electronic books (I didn't know their name was "kindle"...). I also prefer paper books, the feel of them, the slow passing of pages, the smell...
The books you mention have wonderful beginning phrases! Hugs, M.

pancho said...

You are right, I've heard that the first page of a novel is the most difficult one for writers, sometimes success depends on it. You did it perfectly, my attention to your post was drawn by the headline. I knew what I was going to find beforehand.

northshorewoman said...

MP, the Kindle is the digital technology itself; one then has to buy the e-books to store in it. The Kindle is like your own mini online library. Of course, corporations will be cooking up all sorts of ways to make us pay, like e-book plans similar to cell phone plans.

Pancho, first lines in a way, as you note, are like blog post titles! Also, tweets. Maybe folks who are tweeting are writing a bunch of .....rather boring....first lines.

Merche Pallarés said...

I'm very happy to see "my" PANCHO here... It's been a smashing surprise! Hugs, M.

tasteofbeirut said...

I bought Beirut Blues in San Fransisco at the City Lights bookstore, oddly enough, one year and immersed myself in it. I stopped reading it halfway through because I was getting depressed from it!

northshorewoman said...

taste of b, maybe you will pick it up at a later date. books are like that, I've found. Sometimes you can't bear to read them. It depends on what we carry to the page.

I've found myself putting aside some books. If it's because the plot is boring or the writing has flaws and the story is lame and the characters bland, I don't think twice about it.

If however it's because the book makes me really angry or upset or confused..well, at some point, I go back to it.

I did this with Lee Maracle's Ravensong.