54 great opening lines: 28

Let me lay it out for you:
a rural photography competition in a local town hall
and the woman next to me,
sitting with her husband and two children,
had travelled three hours to be there.

8 x 10 colour enlargements $16.50, Cate Kennedy


I heard this poem read on the radio.  With ‘Let me lay it out for you’, the author had my attention.  It rewards hearing it in full.


54 great opening lines: 27

One day in the spring of 1998, Bluma Lennon bought a secondhand copy of Emily Dickinson’s poems in a bookshop in Soho, and as she reached the second poem on the first street corner, she was knocked down by a car.

The Paper House, Carlos María Domínguez (Trans. Nick Caistor)


This is a small novel I found on my daughter-in-law’s bookshelf.  I was hooked from the first line, and took it home.


54 great opening lines: 26

The stranger came early in February, one wintry day, through a biting wind and a driving snow, the last snowfall of the year, over the down, walking from Bramblehurst railway station, and carrying a little black portmanteau in his thickly gloved hand.

The Invisible Man, H.G. Wells


Yesterday I posted the opening line of Invisible Man (sans article) by Ralph Ellison, published in 1952, a book I confused with The Invisible Man (avec article) from 1897 which I listened to on a long car trip recently.  I found the latter interesting in the first half, but more and more disturbing as the protagonist attempted to violently and invisibly dominate his world.

Wells’s writing is awesome;  look at the words he chose to help us imagine guns and glass:

A resounding smash of glass came from upstairs. Adye had a silvery glimpse of a little revolver half out of Kemp’s pocket. “It’s a window, upstairs!” said Kemp, and led the way up. There came a second smash while they were still on the staircase. When they reached the study they found two of the three windows smashed, half the room littered with splintered glass, and one big flint lying on the writing table. The two men stopped in the doorway, contemplating the wreckage. Kemp swore again, and as he did so the third window went with a snap like a pistol, hung starred for a moment, and collapsed in jagged, shivering triangles into the room.


54 great opening lines: 25

I am an invisible man.

Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison


Last week I pulled this book from a friend’s shelf and began reading.  Great opening line, I thought, but why don’t I remember it?  After I’d read a couple of pages I realised the book was not what I thought it was, The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells, which I listened to in the car recently.  I’ve now read many more pages and am happy to have accidentally discovered this story.


Weekly photo challenge: Future Tense and Time

Ailsa has thrown out a challenge to find a photo with the theme of time, and the Weekly Photo Challenge asks us to think ‘future tense’.  Today my husband and I went to a new place called the Arboretum, born out of fires which burnt much of western Canberra ten years ago.  To replace what we no longer have and to help the city recover, especially those who lost all their possessions in the fires, 250 hectares have been planted with large numbers of rare or endangered trees. There are numerous stands of trees to walk and play in, outdoor entertainment areas, lookouts and hilltop sculptures.  This word sculpture had me reflecting on time, 105 years of it.

Sculpture, Arboretum, Canberra (with husband)
Sculpture, Arboretum, Canberra (with husband)

Core of my heart

The love of field and coppice
Of green and shaded lanes
Of ordered woods and gardens
Is running in your veins —
Strong love of grey-blue distance
Brown streams and soft dim skies…
I know but cannot share it,
My love is otherwise.

I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror —
The wide brown land for me!

Dorothea Mackellar published this poem in 1908, four years after she wrote it at the age of 19.  It’s now such an Australian icon that its lines frequently appear in news articles and tourism literature.  One in particular is well-known:  ‘I love a sunburnt country’.  But during years of drought, of which we have many, the phrase ‘wide brown land’ is invoked.  Now Dorothea’s words are immortalised in a huge steel sculpture in the form of her handwriting from the manuscript held in the State Library of New South Wales.  The sculptors were Marcus Tatton, Futago and Chris Viney.

Imagine writing something (at 19!) that would be sculpted a hundred or so years later and placed high on a hill in a capital city.  The words are part of Dorothea’s future, and the Arboretum is part of Canberra’s future.

View from Dairy Farmers Hill, Arboretum, Canberra
View from Dairy Farmers Hill, Arboretum, Canberra.   Our land is wide, but right now it’s not at all brown!

PS  These are phone photos, taken with a Samsung in the spirit of phoneography month.


54 great opening lines: 24

The verb ‘to read’ does not tolerate the imperative, an aversion it shares with a few others:  ‘to love’ … ‘to dream’ …

Like a Novel (originally Comme un roman), Daniel Pennac (my translation)


I’ve read this book in French.  On the back cover is a list of ten rights of a reader, which I found online in the printable form of an English language poster, and which I duly printed and stuck to the back of a particular door for everyone to read.


54 great opening lines: 23

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
‘Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,’ he told me, ‘just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.’

The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald


In my younger and more vulnerable years I went alone to see Robert Redford in The Great Gatsby.  It was slow and misty but dramatic enough.  I’ve never heard the song ‘What’ll I do?’ without returning in my mind to that movie theatre.


54 great opening lines: 22

There was once a sly old fox with nine tails, who was very curious to know whether his wife was true to him:  so he stretched himself out under a bench, and pretended to be dead as a mouse.

Mrs Fox, Brothers Grimm (Trans. unknown)


I’m presently translating a few fairy tales and for inspiration have been going through a book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  When I read this opening line I laughed and read it again.

I’ve found another version of the story entitled How Mrs Fox Married Again, which gives more of a clue about the plot than the simpler Mrs Fox.


Illustration by Walter Crane, found in Project Gutenberg.


54 great opening lines: 21

When Gregor Samsa awoke from troubled dreams one morning, he found that he had been transformed in his bed into an enormous bug.

Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka (Trans. by Stanley Appelbaum)


Sometimes I have to read a piece of literature in order to teach it.  This one for example.  I’d avoided Metamorphosis all my life until the day a student emailed to ask for help writing an essay on it.  We agreed to meet a week later, to give me time to read it.  Which I did, feeling again the long flying cockroaches of my childhood scratching their way across my bare feet or arms.  At the end of the week I received another email from her, from the other side of the world.  She had left the country, written her essay without my help, then emailed me to say ‘Forget it’.  Too late, I’d read it, I’d squirmed my way to the end.

But one good thing came out of the exercise:  I discovered its great opening line.


Ailsa’s photo challenge: green

Ailsa has posted the most awesome green photos, and I’m guessing that since she’s Irish she must have St Patrick’s Day in mind, coming up on 17th March.  And so I have a King Parrot in mind:  the orange and the green.

He used to visit us on our back deck.  Unlike Edgar Allan Poe’s Raven which I blogged about yesterday, the King Parrot never came rapping or tapping at my chamber door, nor at my window lattice.  But he would fly in under the pergola and sit on the clothes horse as though wanting to join us for morning tea.

King Parrot, Canberra
King Parrot, Canberra