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E.L. Doctorow on the Radio

Of the 30+ text collections at The Other Pages, many are unique. One of my favorites was brought to mind this afternoon while driving home from work. E.L. Doctorow was doing an interview with Melissa Block on NPR, discussing his new book, Homer & Langley. While the book has an interesting premise, I was taken with some of Doctorow’s comments about writing. In particular about how you get started.


He said: “I could not have done this book had I not found the first line for it: ‘I'm Homer, the blind brother,’ and once I had that it was a way of breaking into the story.”


When Michelle asked him why that was so important, he continued: “The first lines of a book are very crucial, usually, for the beginnings of books. They give you the voice. They imply the kind of texture the text will have. And, in effect, they are the acorn from which the oak grows. They Predict. You can find the entire book in that first line.”


This is a great unsolicited advert for collection # 26 – Good Starts. I had seen many first-line indices for poetry, but none for books – so I started one some time ago: http://theotherpages.org/quote-26.html


Here are a few new ones – starting with a batch by Doctorow himself – and he definitely shows a wide range of voices in his opening lines – though he seems to have a preference for character narration:


I'm Homer, the blind brother,
Homer & Langley, E.L. Doctorow, 2009


In 1902 Father built a house at the crest of the Broadview Avenue hill in New Rochelle, New York.
Ragtime, E.L. Doctorow, 1975


Startled awake by the ammoniated mists, I am aroused in one instant from glutinous sleep to grieving awareness; I have done it again.
World's Fair, E.L. Doctorow, 1985


He had to have planned it because when we drove into the dock the boat was there and the engine was running and you could see the water churning up phosphorescence in the river, which was the only light there was because there was no moon, nor no electric light either in the shack where the dock master should have been sitting, nor on the boat itself, and certainly not from the car, yet everyone knew where everything was, and when the big Packard came down the ramp Mickey the driver braked it so that the wheels hardly rattled the boards, and when he pulled up alongside the gangway the doors were already open and they hustled Bo and the girl upside before they even made a shadow in the darkness.
Billy Bathgate, E.L. Doctorow, 1989


They were a hateful presence in me.
Loon Lake  by E.L. Doctorow, 1980


The Man from Bodie drank down a half bottle of the Silver Sun's best; that cleared the dust from his throat and then when Florence, who was a redhead, moved along the bar to him, he turned and grinned down at her.
Welcome to Hard Times by E.L. Doctorow, 1960


People wouldn't take what Martin Pemberton said as literal truth, he was much to melodramatic or too tormented to speak plainly.
The Waterworks by E.L. Doctorow, 1994


The date was April 14, 1912, a sinister day in maritime history, but of course the man in suite 63-65, shelter deck C, did not yet know it.
Devil in the White City, Erik Larson, 2003


Hador Goldenhead was a lord of the Edain and well-loved by the Eldar.

The Children of Hurin, J.R.R. Tolkien, 2007


Hapscomb’s Texaco sat on Number 93 just north of Arnette, a pissant four-street burg about 110 miles from Houston.

The Stand, Stephen King, 1978


“Oh my God!" my friend Arnie Cunningham cried out suddenly.

Christine, Stephen King, 1983

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