I’ve started to compile a list of the books I own that I intend to read or re-read. At time of writing it contains 96 entries, and I’ve extended it more than I’ve shortened it since I first compiled it1. However making the list has caused me to reflect on the opening lines of some of its entries, and to come across other examples of memorable opening lines as I contemplate adding to the list. This from Moby Dick, a book that I started to read several times during my childhood years but somehow never quite managed to finish. But I will some day.
Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing in particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses , and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially when my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship.There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, sometime or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.
How could I not finish a book that starts so well as this? Now 97!
1. Since I retired from my full time job on Friday last in principle I ought to have a reasonable chance of reducing this list in the next few years.↩