“It is a truth universally acknowledged” – On First Lines

The NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour had a wonderful segment recently about first impressions in pop culture, with panelist Glen Weldon talking about the great first lines in literature. I particularly loved his analysis of “Call me Ishmael” and his breakdown of the different functions of first lines. He has additional material posted on his Tumblr, including several other examples and he asked listeners to mention the first lines that they loved and I figured that I can take a crack at it.

I love first lines. I pick them apart, not only in other people’s writing but also in my own. A well-turned phrase, a particularly scintillating piece of dialogue–for me, it signals the writer’s capacity for wordcraft and I end up feeling let down by a less than stellar first page. In fact, I have started to disdain this a little bit about myself, because I’ve found that overly elaborate first lines can end up being mere affectations that the rest of the book’s two hundred or so pages cannot sustain.

Here are ten openings that I want to talk about from books I’ve loved. Obviously I’m projecting what I already know about the book into my interpretations, but I still hope people find this exercise interesting, regardless. I tried the find examples across the spectrum, from starkly simple description, personality-filled first person narration, to even works that mimic other types of documentation. Continue reading

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A Little Nuts about Podcasts, Part 1

I have to admit that the bulk of the time and attention I used to devote to books have lately been encroached by podcasts. It’s not necessarily a new medium–for years I’ve listened to staples such as Radiolab and Pop Culture Happy Hour but my fixation has become much, much more intense in the last three months or so. The thing with podcasts is that they often end up referencing other podcasts that I end up trying as well.

Though I inevitably spike shows that I don’t find particularly engaging, the list of podcasts that I follow is still distressingly long. Here is the list of the ones I truly enjoy, conveniently grouped into categories.

I. Roundtable-type Discussions

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour (iTunes)

This is legitimately my favorite podcast of all time. It’s a delightfully casual but still incisive discussion of pop culture and the breadth that it encompasses. The panelists are Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Trey Graham, and Glen Weldon, all of whom are connected in some way with NPR. Topics that they’ve tackled include comic book movie adaptations, The Bachelor Pad, John Updike, movie musicals, muppets, and roadtrip movies.

Over time you will learn that each have a respective predilection (Trey, for example, is a German art song enthusiast while Linda is a noted reality television aficionado) which the rest of the panel would lovingly mock. Their list of guest panelists, like Barrie Hardymon and podcast producer Mike Katzif, are also delightful.

Though they often discuss current events in pop culture, I think it’s perfectly easy to jump into the pool and listen to older episodes. Here are some that I particularly enjoy:

Scott Pilgrim And Our Great Big Blind Spots (August 2010)
The Art Of The Memoir And What We’ll Have On The Side (Nov. 2011)
On Endings And Road Trips (May 2012)

Continue reading