Take Huckleberry Finn, for instance:

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the
name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That
book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.
There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.
That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another,
without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt
Polly—Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas
is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some
stretchers, as I said before.

Just wonderful.

Right out of the gate, Twain makes a colloquial connection: i.e. “You don’t know about me.” Of course, we know him…why else are we reading the book? And yet, we don’t know about him! A famous person is both known and unknown.

Then, he refers to himself in the third person (Mr. Mark Twain), and he questions his own own honesty (“there were things which he stretched”). He’s given us the “unreliable narrator” by the second sentence.

And finally, he talks about the characters like we know them: i.e. Aunt Polly, Mary, etc. In short, he’s cleverly hooked us into the tale. It’s like we’re talking an old friend. We’re on a porch in the Mississippi Valley, sharing a tea with Samuel Clemens.

A great piece of literature is not accidental. It’s the result of artist who, after years of chiseling, has developed a fluidity. He’s a skater, gliding upon on the ice. He’s the wily and crafty veteran, using a time-honored technique that he learned over years of practice.

See Related Article: Short Story Review: “The Lake” by Ray Bradbury

One thought on “You Know a Book is Great in the First Paragraph

  1. my oldest and i are both voracious readers. there’s nothin’ like great prose. sometimes we’ll share a sentence or a paragraph we’ve read that is just incredible. we like different genres so we don’t read the same books, but we both deeply appreciate the exceptionally written word.

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