Playing Favorites

Everyone has their favorite author, favorite book, favorite genre, or even their favorite opening line. I’m not talking about grand and often pointless debates of what is “the greatest.” I believe that a person can simultaneously recognize that his or her favorite might not necessarily be the “best” of something. (e.g., my favorite Harry Potter book is #3 while it can be argued that either #4 or #6 are “the best.”)

All that aside, I’ve been thinking about favorite paragraphs. These are the paragraphs that I just had to read over again immediately, and then again even after I’ve moved on. Here is my list, which I won’t call my “all-time” list because I never know what I might read tomorrow.

Favorite opening paragraph: “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson – accomplishes everything an opening should: establishes the narrator (who happens to be my favorite type of narrator, the wise-beyond-her-years, outcast youth) while letting us in on the darkly comic story we’re in for. 

Favorite ending paragraph: “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” by Michael Chabon – like most things Chabon writes, this particular ending makes you wonder how one person can create such a brilliant group of sentences, all at one time. 

Favorite general paragraph: In which Raymond Carver describes a hideous baby in his short story, “Feathers” – if Carver didn’t have fun writing this, then I doubt he’s ever had fun in his life.

Does anyone else have favorite paragraphs? If so, please share!

Enjoy the long weekend,

7 thoughts on “Playing Favorites

  1. The first paragraph of the second book in Jeanette Winterson's “The Passion.” Her description of Venice is true in every possible literal and incredible way.


  2. I don't know about entire opening paragraphs but my favourite opening line has to be

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

    How many single sentences ever be as quoted as much as that one? Maggie


  3. Gloria, thanks for bringing up King's nonfiction book. Even if you (dear reader) do not read his fiction, ON WRITING is a really nice resource for writers and the writing itself made me appreciate King in a different way.

    (Which is why I was so disheartened to read his recent curmudgeon-esque EW piece on the so-called demise of publishing… please note I tried to find a link to it, but alas, I could not.)


  4. I have always loved the last paragraph of Poe's TELL TALE HEART when he reveals that he has murdered the old man. Madness at its finest.

    For a general paragraph I like one by Stephen King in his non-fiction book, ON WRITING, when he states that writing is a job just like “laying pipe.” It's so ordinary for a man who has enjoyed such great success, and to me it's a true statement of the work.

    Any paragraph that John Irving writes is also one I want to read.


  5. Many of my favorite paragraphs are in THE POISONWOOD BIBLE by Barbara Kingsolver. She captures individual voice so well and has such great insight. I found her first paragraph in THE POISONWOOD BIBLE haunting:
    “Imagine a ruin so strange it must never have happened.”


  6. Kevin,

    I loved that entire chapter of David Mitchell's CLOUD ATLAS. I interpreted the language as a deterioration of language plus a mixture of many different languages following the apocalypse. I thought it was brilliant!


  7. One of my favorite lines comes smack dab in the middle of “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell. In the Sloosha's Crossin' section, the language is butchered and rough but there is one line that articulates one of the biggest problems of being young is, “ev'rythin'' you're puzzlin'n'anxin' you're puzzlin'n'anxin' it for the first time.”

    And probably one of my favorite last paragraphs is in Murakami's short story “Family Affair”. For some reason it just really resonates and always makes me want to flip right back to the beginning.


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