sullying the slate

Last night -- or yesterday morning, I guess -- I shared some of my favourite novel beginnings.

Today, I share some of my least -- although I admit to leaving out some of the worst, like Gone With the Wind or Wicked, because I love those novels too much to complain about them and their opening graphs are too long for me to transcribe tonight. This morning. Whatever.

(By the way, if the thought of the puddle lying half a block away from my building has been bothering you, I'm sorry to report it is still there. Mostly dried, but still aromatic and orangey.)

At first, I thought I would study art. Art history, to be exact. Then I thought, No, what about physical anthropology?--a point in my life thereafter referred to as My Jane Goodall Period. I tried to imagine my mother, Sarah Bennett-Dodd (called Sally by everyone with the exception of her mother), camping with me in the African bush, drinking strong coffee from battered tin cups, much in the way that Jane did with Mrs. Goodall. I saw us laid up with matching cases of malaria; in mother/daughter safari shorts; our hands weathering in exactly the same fashion.

This is the opening graph of Whitney Otto's How to Make an American Quilt. For the record, I like this book partly for Otto's ability to tell intertwining stories of women over the course of decades. Mostly, I bought it and loved it because it was the basis for a movie that featured my favourite actors and actresses of the mid-90s, like Winona Ryder, Jared Leto, Claire Danes and Samantha Mathis. (Only when I found a used video at the Wee Book Inn would I realize it also featured Anne Bancroft.)

Anyway, this opening graph definitely sets the tone for the book. Unfortunately, it kind of hits me now as dry. Why should I care? Okay, I get it. Finn's one of those wandering grad students who doesn't really plan to graduate from school ever, so she keeps picking away at whatever gets her attention for longer than 3.5 seconds. And she's quirky, so she thinks about dragging her mother into the jungle with her.... But if I weren't lulled by the film and memories of summer skies and swimming pools and old-school pickup trucks, not sure I'd buy the book....

A long night staggered into day. It was four a.m., the witching hour of the daily production schedule, and the crew was divided.

The opening of Leah McLaren's The Continuity Girl goes on from there, about things not being in sync and it being one of those days, etc.

I know exactly why I bought this book, and it had everything to do with the name of the author. I genuinely like McLaren's weekly columns, and nothing really could have stopped me from purchasing this novel if only because I was so curious about it the whole time she was writing it and dropping hints about writing something....

But she's a journalist. Or a columnist. She could have done better with the lede.

That day I was just about to lose my vocation, my job, my good sense, probably my mind, but what I thought I was losing was Mary Catherine O'Connor.
"You shouldn't go," I said to Mary Cat.

Oh, Sarah Smith. Your romp through London in Chasing Shakespeares is so well-crafted. It's like an adventure, perhaps even a Choose Your Own Adventure (not really), based on Shakespeare's works and manuscripts.

But the start.... Why should I care about this Mary Cat person? And when will Joe lose his mind? Maybe these were the questions that spurred me to buy this one in hardcover (or maybe it was the awesome discount at Perfect Books). And I harbour no regrets. I just long for a better start.

Of course, I have been disappointed by awesome starts before.

No comments: