There's a great compendium of some of the most pithy and engaging words ever written on American Book Review: the 100 best first lines from novels. I love the art of the great first line - there's a lot to be learned from these for us ad hacks. Especially in terms of writing good headlines. How to make something compelling enough for you to need to read on, yet not give so much away that you feel you don't have to. Or, how to demand attention between a capital and a full-stop. Have a look at the full list here.
Some of my favourites:
It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
—George Orwell, 1984 (1949)
Vaughan died yesterday in his last car-crash.
—J. G. Ballard, Crash (1973)
It was the day my grandmother exploded.
—Iain M. Banks, The Crow Road (1992)
This is the saddest story I have ever heard.
—Ford Madox Ford, The Good Soldier (1915)
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.
—Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (1859)
Some good ones nominated by our well read readers:
Marley was dead, to begin with.
—Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)
(ta John W)
Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure.
—Albert Camus, The Stranger (1942)
(thanks John A)
It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
—Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
—Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (1875)
The stripped-down jeep rattled, hopped and bumped its way across the rocky sands of the Koh-e-Sufaid.
—Ben Kay, Instinct (2010)
Any more for any more?