If they grab you by the ears and make your jaw drop with excitement and anticipation, it’s often a good sign that the subsequent belles-lettres are going to entertain with fervour.
When I receive a new manuscript to evaluate, one of my favourite rituals is to arm myself with a large cup of tea, then dive into the text like I’m sliding down into fresh bed sheets; the question is will there be a literary embrace awaiting me, or am I destined for a drop-fonted, cold shoulder and an early night, for all the wrong reasons.
I thought I’d share a few wordy whoppers from some of the greatest writers of our time and I hope, as you wade your way through them, that you are inspired to (a) find a copy and go read whatever has grabbed you, or (b) find a pen and go write something better to enter into the Magic Oxygen Literary Prize for short stories and poetry – click here for details.
See if you can work out which great books these opening paragraphs come from, the authors and titles are listed below; please note, there are indeed three good Williams.
“If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”
“First the colours. Then the humans. That’s how I usually see things. Or at least, how I try. Here is a small fact: You are going to die.”
“You will rejoice to hear that no disaster has accompanied the commencement of an enterprise which you have regarded with such evil forebodings.”
“Behind every man now alive stand thirty ghosts, for that is the ratio by which the dead outnumber the living.”
“Under certain circumstance there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
“Like the brief doomed flare of exploding suns that registers dimly on blind men’s eyes, the beginning of the horror passed almost unnoticed; in the shriek of what followed, in fact, was forgotten and perhaps not connected to the horror at all.”
“The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it.”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”
“Most motorcars are conglomerations (this is a long word for bundles) of steel and wire and rubber and plastic, and electricity and oil and gasoline and water, and the toffee papers you pushed down the crack in the back seat last Sunday.”
“It was seven o’clock of a very warm evening in the Seeonee Hills when Father Wolf woke up from his day’s rest, scratched himself, yawned, and spread out his paws one after the other to get rid of the sleepy feeling in their tips.”
“My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down. It was seventy-five degrees in Phoenix, the sky a perfect, cloudless blue. I was wearing my favorite shirt – sleeveless, white eyelet lace; I was wearing it as a farewell gesture. My carry-on item was a parka.”
“If music be the food of love, play on, Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken, and so die.”
“My father got the dog drunk on cherry brandy at the party last night. If the RSPCA hear about it he could get done.”
“As the Manager of the Performance sits before the curtain on the boards, and, looks into the Fair, a feeling of profound melancholy comes over him in his survey of the bustling place.”
Mary Shelley – Frankenstein
Stephenie Meyer – Twilight
William Makepeace Thackeray – Vanity Fair
William Peter Blatty – The Exorcist
Ian Fleming – Chitty Chitty Bang Bang
Henry James – The Portrait of a Lady
Markus Zusak – The Book Thief
J D Salinger – Catcher in the Rye
Sue Townsend – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4
Rudyard Kipling – The Jungle Book
Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
Anna Sewell – Black Beauty
Arthur C Clarke – 2001 A Space Odyssey
William Shakespeare – Twelfth Night
Don’t stay up too late reading.