Jólabókaflóðið

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 20, 2015 10:04 PM

Last night, Kevin and I were volunteering for the Southern Arizona Golden Retriever Rescue group, wrapping presents at Barnes & Noble. It was my third time; I’m getting to be a pro. We were there from just before 4 to just after 6. The last gifts we wrapped were for a couple, the wife of which I had spoken to earlier when she walked by the table and asked: “Are you guys wrapping presents?” I replied that we were indeed. She could barely contain her joy.

Shortly thereafter a gentleman came to the table and asked that we wrap a book for his wife. As we wrapped, I asked if he wanted to pick out a to/from tag and he said: “No. It’s just the two of us.” As we were finishing his book, his wife came up to have us wrap her book, the same woman who had asked about wrapping. That’s when she told us the story of Jólabókaflóðið.

Iceland is one of the most prolific countries in the world when it comes to book publishing. Each year, between October and November, the majority of new titles are published in preparation for what it known as the flood of books. Jólabókaflóðið. 

This flood is what sustains the country’s publishing industry, which publishes approximately five titles for every 1000 residents. It is fueled by the Icelandic tradition of buying books to be given and read on Christmas Eve. Nearly all Icelanders receive at least one book for Christmas, and at the end of the evening, most retire to their beds to read. 

Iceland has a long literary history that dates back to medieval times. They have several books from that time period that are still published and read. Many are published in the native Icelandic language, one mostly spoken only by the 319,000 people who live there. One of the local city libraries regularly loans out 1.2 million books a year, and there’s a television show called Kiljan, devoted entirely to the wonder and joy of books. 

I loved this story. As I was wrapping her book, I asked if there was a particular genre of book that seemed to dominate and she said that it was usually fiction though biographies were popular, too. She showed me the app on her phone. Jólabókaflóðið has been happening since World War II, when there were strict money restrictions that limited what could be imported into Iceland. Paper wasn’t one of the items restricted so books became the Christmas present of choice. Icelanders inside and outside of the country have been honoring the tradition ever since. Every year, a Bokatidindi, or catalog, is published showing hundreds of thousands of new titles. It is distributed to every Icelander. 

The gifts are always hardcover books because books are such an important gift, that they must also be physical. They have to feel substantial. Paperbacks are rare and e-books are non-existent, at Christmas, because that doesn’t fit the tradition. 

I finished wrapping the woman’s gift. We put a lovely gold blow on it. Her husband had moved over the newsstand and was waiting for her to finish. They had come together and then split up in the store with the express purpose of buying each other one book to give on Christmas Eve. They will open them and then spend the rest of the night reading to themselves, reading to each other, enjoying the written word. 

She thanked me and wished me a Merry Christmas. Gleðileg jól. I smiled and wished her the same, and a Christmas Eve in particular filled with the wonder of the books they will gift each other. Filled with a celebration of stories. Sounds like my kind of Christmas.

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live out loud

I'm an addict

by Lorin Michel Sunday, December 16, 2012 10:13 PM

As a writer I love books. My house is full of them, with hundreds in my office alone filling two bookshelves, and stacked in nearly every corner. I have additional ones stacked on the desk. Downstairs I have 11 on the coffee table in the living room and another 20 or so stacked up next to the antique music stand. Most of those are books about different types of architecture or wine. There is the biography of Steve Jobs and several books on antique toys; one on a round-the-world motorcycle trip taken by the actor Ewan McGregor; another called Full Moon. On a chair is a book on the art of Vladimir Kush, one of our favorite surrealistic painters. On an ottoman there is a book on wizards.

The bedroom sports a stack of books in the space between my side of the bed and my nightstand; more still on the shelf of our credenza/dresser. In the kitchen there are multiple cookbooks as there are in many kitchens. There are 10 to the right of the cooktop; in the cabinet above, another 10. In the drawer next to the sink, another five or six, mostly paperbacks that I rarely use unless I need a temperature for cooking something like a roast. I rarely cook roast.

There are books in the garage, mostly auto repair and about different tools; tiling and painting.

Kevin’s office also boasts dozens of books, many stacked up in the corner near his desk, some under the credenza, others on a book shelf.  Like me, he still has at least one dictionary and thesaurus; like me he never uses them, but neither one of us can bring it upon ourselves to throw them away. Throwing away books is sacrilege, especially to a writer. Or a writer’s husband.

I have probably said this before but I am physically incapable of not having too many books. Is there such a thing as too many? I buy books on Amazon at an alarming rate. Many remain unread for years but it doesn’t stop me from buying them anyway. Some I start to read but don’t get very far. At any given time, I may have three or four books in progress. Sometimes it’s because I don’t really like them; sometimes it’s because I like them but don’t love them enough to devour them. And I can devour a book in one setting if it grabs me. This happens often with any Alice Hoffman book; it happened with Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I literally can’t put the book(s) down for fear of not knowing what is going to happen. Then, at the end, while I’m sorry to bid farewell to characters I’ve come to know and sometimes love, I usually feel a sense of deep satisfaction. It’s similar to seeing a deeply effective film, something that doesn’t happen often enough. In fact, I’m not sure I can remember the last one I saw where I left the theatre thinking and feeling content, and wanting to talk about it. That’s, to me, the mark of a strong film. The last one Kevin and I talked about at length after seeing it may have been Cast Away.

I digress.

I can’t go into Barnes & Noble without leaving with a bag of books that cost a minimum of $100. It’s a sickness, an addiction. Hi, I’m Lorin and I’m a book addict. I have no intention of going into any kind of a 12-chapter program. I am perfectly happy to wallow in my addiction, to drown myself in pages and pages of words and sentences and paragraphs and chapters. I don’t want an intervention; I know it wouldn’t help because I’m not ready to surrender to the disease. It can’t hurt me; it can only expand my mind and fill my soul. It can’t destroy me; it can only make me stronger.

I am a book addict. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a dozen or so books calling my name.

In the undictionary

by Lorin Michel Thursday, June 7, 2012 1:00 AM

At the beginning of this year, Bobbi and I embarked on a different kind of morning salutation. Rather than saying “good morning” on our iChats, we decided to start with the word of the day, something that serves to describe how we’re feeling at a particular moment that will hopefully or if it’s negative, hopefully not, carry us through the day. It’s been very interesting. Sometimes we’ve been so in sync that we’ve used the same word; sometimes we’re at least using words that are similar. Sometimes we’re at polar opposites, but it has made for some very different morning fodder.

Some of the words we’ve used have been un-words, or words we’ve made up. This actually started for me some time ago. Once upon a time, I was the senior copywriter at Sebastian International, the hair care company. Senior being sort of funny because I was also the only copywriter. But senior allowed me to make more money. One of the owners of the company was the creative director and thus my boss. She created the company’s products as well as the basic ideas for the collateral material. Brochures, ads, etc. Many a day, I’d sit in her office as she discussed her latest ideas, hands flailing big and wide as she explained, a yellow legal pad with her scribbled notes in front of her. Many a time, she’d finish, look at me, cock an eyebrow and then give me a very wicked smile. “I want a new word to describe this,” she’d say. “Something that’s never been used before.”

The first time she did that, I remember looking back at her. Staring probably. Trying to cock my own eyebrow, a talent I never particularly mastered. Then, after a minute, I got up and slunk back to my office. A word that’s never been used, something that’s never been written.

But I did it, time and again. Sometimes they were product names, sometimes they were concept philosophies, sometimes they were educational programs. Sometimes they were rejected, thrown across the room, stomped on and burned. Other times, I got taken out to lunch to celebrate with wine, or tequila. The boss loved tequila.

After I left Sebastian, I got out of the making-up-words business for a while, but lately I’ve found myself slipping back into it. Bobbi and I have even developed our own lexicon of sorts, creating an undictionary because I’m fairly certain that most of these contractions do not currently exist in Webster’s or on dictionary.com.

Evidently we’re not alone. An article in the New York Times on Monday talked of how scholars have recently analyzed more that five million books, which incidentally comprises approximately 4 percent of all the books ever printed. The researchers discovered that “52 percent of the English lexicon – the majority of the words used in English books – consists of lexical ‘dark matter’ undocumented in standard references.” Standard references being dictionaries.

Writers tend to contribute to the lexical dark matter – a term that I already absolutely love and may adopt as my own – of language by writing about things that are “so new that the terms used to discuss them are still hot from the mold, or just through wordsmithery, the coining of words that need to exist for evocative, rather than technical, reasons.” Wordsmithery is such a word.

Jack Steele of the US Air Force created the word bionics in 1960. Writer Richard D. Rosen coined the word psychobabble in 1977. One of the more recent words that had never been used until it was is Grexit, used by Citigroup’s Ebrahim Rahbari and Willem Buiter to describe Greece’s exit from the euro zone.

Back in 1800, Samuel Taylor Coleridge created the word agasp. Emily Dickinson created resituate. Charles Dickens used scrunched in 1836 before it was actually a word. In Sketches by Boz he wrote: “He had compromised with the parents of three scrunched children, and just worked out his fine, for knocking down an old lady.” Scrunched children.

Our words include fabulocity and nervopoly (from March 29). We’ve used hamstering to describe the act of spinning our wheels and pinballing to describe the idea of bouncing from one thing to another. These are usually work-related made-ups. There are words we’ve heard through others like exhaustipated, which translates to being so tired you just don’t give a shit. Assholian describes a real jerk. Demoncracy is how we are currently talking about our political process. Sometimes we have brain holes, which is a phrase more than a word but still something most don’t use. It’s all about not remembering something. There’s innovasive which is when something truly innovative is also evasive. Like not being able to come up with a word that’s never been used. Bobbi coined wube for wine. No idea where that came from other than I suspect her fingers were just on the wrong keys. Puppylicious is self-evident. Roy contributed one the other day. Quadrupalous. No idea what it means but it has a rather pleasant sound as it leaves your tongue.

Another thing I recently discovered is that the art of making up words, according to the website wordnik.com, is called madeupical. You can look it up. 

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live out loud

The home office vs the office at home

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, February 8, 2012 9:14 PM

I am one of the approximately 44.4 million or maybe it’s 55 million people – the number varies depending on who you ask – who work at home at least one day a year. Of course, I work at home at least 6 days a week, so I’m probably a different kind of stat, one I haven’t quite been able to locate. According to Home Business Magazine and U.S. Census statistics, though, there are 38 million home-based businesses, which means those businesses have to have offices. In addition to those 38 million offices, there are as many as 36.6 million homes that have offices in the home, offices they use to either have part-time businesses, or to pay bills, surf the ‘nets, or do some work at home. Those are telecommuters and the ones who fall between the 44.4 and 55 million.

Or maybe it’s just 2.8 million.

Statistics are just numbers but they do provide some insight as to what’s going on out there in the world, especially for someone like me who only knows what’s going out there when people tell me. Or when I read it somewhere. Or research it. Or hear it on NPR.

I was listening to NPR today on my way to a meeting. It’s the only good thing about driving in Los Angeles in the morning as far as I’m concerned. Traffic is ridiculous and a colossal waste of time and it makes my hair hurt and my blood pressure rise. Also, it makes me tired and cranky.

I digress.

The ultimate home office. President Obama’s oval office.

On NPR they were talking to the New York Times writer, Jodi Kantor, who just put out the book The Obamas, and they were discussing the White House. Evidently in the book, which I haven’t seen but have heard quite a bit about, she includes floor plans for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. I’m sure the Secret Service loves that. The floor plans show the residence, where the First Family lives, along with their grandmother, Marian Robinson – the First Grandma – and the First Dog, Bo, as well as all of the different famous rooms, the places where the tour takes place, the gift shop and of course, all of the offices. As I was listening to that I started chuckling as it occurred to me that the White House is the ultimate home office.

Think about it, the President lives AND works in the same building. Granted, he has quite the staff, and the White House is 55,000 square feet, a bit larger than most people’s home offices, with 132 rooms, 35 bathrooms, 28 fireplaces, 8 staircases and 3 elevators. It has six stories, the top two of which are the residence, which is about 3,000 square feet. Still pretty good size by most people’s standards.

No doubt that home office is full of all of the usual office equipment. Computers, cell phones, wireless networks, multifunctional printers, indispensible cell phones, PDAs, tablets and more. They also have the Situation Room, so they win in the cool home office department. Business News is estimating that the incidence of home offices and offices in the home will increase greatly by 2015, with 2 million more home-based businesses and 3 million more home offices for out-of-home businesses. They also anticipate that working at home won’t make the work day any shorter or easier. The need to be more productive is already translating into very long work-days. The number of people who work longer than the stereotypical 8-hour day will also increase by more than 27 million. That number won’t include me. I already work more than an 8-hour day. My days are at least 10 and usually closer to 12 or 14 hours.

Part of my office, photographed tonight with my cell phone. So similar to the president’s, don't you think?

But I’m not complaining because my commute it amazing. My wardrobe is easy and comfortable. I have everything I could possibly need to be successful all in the confines of my 10 X 12 loft. Two computers, a nearly obsolete fax machine, a printer, a TV, a DVD player, a desk top phone, a cell phone, Mulder and Scully dolls, other toys, and tons and stacks of books, both in shelves and on the floor. Of course, mostly what I need to be successful is locked inside my brain and I take that everywhere.

Still, I love my home office. It is my sanctuary, my home within my home, the place I go to work every day around 8am, the place I’m in right now at 7:37pm. If working at home is good enough for the president, I think it’s also good enough for me.

Living it out loud every day up here overlooking the rest of the house.

The purge

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, August 17, 2011 7:55 PM

My office is probably like many offices. I have current client folders and past client folders; I have sample products and sample gifts, samples of printed pieces, books galore, a wooden duck, two computers, one portable DVD player, an intercom system, speakers, some toys, and a phone. And that’s just on the desk. Don’t even get me started on the floor around my desk or my closet. It is an unmitigated mess. My piles have piles, which I realize is a personal problem.

I try to keep it organized. I pretty much know where everything is in order to get my hands on it quickly, if I need to. Occasionally I get to the point where I just can’t stand it anymore and I go through the accumulated mess that sits underneath one of my computers and to the left and right of my main computer, my beloved Mac. Yes, that is his formal name. It’s usually right around the time when I can no longer see the wood of the desktop. Every day after Thanksgiving while much of the world goes shopping, I have my annual “Lorin cleans her office day” in which I go through everything on the desk and the floor around the desk, throwing out barrels full of stuff no longer needed and shredding that which can’t be thrown away. I dust everything including the shelf at the back of my desk, and all of the various other pieces of furniture in the office. I even vacuum. Then I stand in the doorway and feel very proud.

But lately, doing just enough to see the top of the desk and the annual Lorin cleans day isn’t cutting it. Maybe it’s delayed spring cleaning; maybe I’ve lost that nesting feeling. But I’ve decided that a person can’t live like this any longer. When one can’t even open the doors of one’s closet in order to extract whatever is needed without worrying about the entire contents of said closet falling down on one’s head, something needs to be done.

Let me say this now. I am not nor have I ever been a hoarder.

This is not my office

Now that that’s out of the way, let me explain further. As a writer, I have many written things. Some of them by me, many by others. Those ‘by others’ are usually in hard cover and stacked nicely in the book shelf behind my desk. In the closet, which makes me nearly break out in hives when I have to go inside, there are many, many, many boxes containing things I have written throughout my career. Hell, throughout my life. I’m fairly sure the notebooks that I used to scribble my stories after I’d climbed my favorite tree in order to gain some privacy are in there. Those stories, which may go back to when I was 6, were usually about a girl named Julie. I have no idea why. Evidently when I was 6, I thought Julie was about the coolest name a girl could have. Perhaps because of The Mod Squad. Those notebooks, small enough to fit into the back pocket of my overalls, were my lifeblood. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a writer.

I digress.

Yesterday I had an epiphany. The skies parted and the sun shone down, angels wept with astonishment over how incredibly brilliant I was. The epiphany? I could clean out my office a little bit at a time.

I’ll pause while you, dear reader, also bask in my brilliance.

Imagine the joy. I no longer had to spend an entire day going through one or two piles; I no longer had to quiver at the very thought of prying open the dreaded closet doors. Or tackling the mess that hides – very well, I might add – behind my door. I didn’t have to put the whole room off until I had time that would never manifest. I could simply start with one small section, clean it out, and then be done for the time being. I began with three of my desk drawers. I went through everything in them and discarded most of what resided there. I had date books from 1999. Yes, I am embarrassed.

But I’ve begun the purging process. I feel elevated. I feel strong. I feel that if I do this often enough, eventually, I’ll even get to the closet.

Then again…

The great first paragraphs from "Love in the Time of Cholera"

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, August 9, 2011 8:45 PM

“It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love. Dr. Juvenal Urbino noticed it as soon as he entered the still darkened house where he had hurried on an urgent call to attend a case that for him had lost all urgency many years before. The Antillean refugee Jeremiah de Saint-Amour, disabled war veteran, photographer of children, and his most sympathetic opponent in chess, had escaped the torments of memory with the aromatic fumes of gold cyanide.

“He found the corpse covered with a blanket on the campaign cot where he had always slept, and beside it was the stool with the developing tray he had used to vaporize the poison. On the floor, tied to a leg of the cot, lay the body of a black Great Dane with a snow-white chest, and next to him were the crutches. At one window the splendor of dawn was just beginning to illuminate the stifling, crowded room that served as both a bedroom and laboratory, but there was enough light for him to recognize at once the authority of death. The other windows, as well as every other chink in the room, were muffled with rags or sealed with black cardboard, which increased the oppressive heaviness. A counter was crammed with jars and bottles without labels and two crumbling pewter trays under an ordinary light bulb covered with red paper. The third tray, the one for the fixative solution, was next to the body. There were old magazines and newspapers everywhere, piles of negatives on glass plates, broken furniture, but everything was kept free of dust by a diligent hand. Although the air coming through the window had purified the atmosphere, there still remained for the one who could identify it the dying embers of hapless love in the bitter almonds. Dr. Juvenal Urbino had often thought, with no premonitory intention, that this would not be a propitious place for dying in a state of grace. But in time he came to suppose that perhaps its disorder obeyed an obscure determination of Divine Providence.”

 

The great first lines of Love in the Time of Cholera by Columbian novelist Gabriel García Márquez who hypothesized that lovesickness is a literal disease, comparable to cholera. His characters suffer from love just as they would from any malady. The term cholera is cólera in Spanish, García Márquez’ native tongue, and it means human rage and ire, emotions often derived from the sickness of love. It’s an eloquent book by a nobel prize winning writer known affectionately as Gabo throughout Latin America. 

First edition: Spanish cover

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great first paragraphs

In which I celebrate the sheer joy of the bookstore

by Lorin Michel Sunday, July 17, 2011 10:49 PM

For a writer, a bookstore is like crack cocaine to a drug addict. You walk in the door, feel the cool rush of air conditioning and breathe in the intoxicating scent of paper and ink mingling with the blood, sweat and tears of the writers whose names grace each jacket, each cover. In new bookstores, the shelves that greet you are long and welcoming. Tables stretch ahead, adorned with signs touting “new releases,” “great new writers,” “new in paperback,” and “discoveries.” In used bookstores, the fragrance is almost overwhelming. It’s slightly musty, obviously old, like walking into an antique store, but that fragrance is rich in history, and the pages of those books, those pre-owned books, bear the mark, feel and scent of those who turned the pages before.

In the book of Jeremiah, the prophet dictates to Baruch the scribe the mode in which his book was written. Scribes are considered the earliest booksellers, supplying copies of the books they heard dictated to those who asked. Aristotle is said to have possessed an extensive library; Plato is said to have paid quite a bit of money, one hundred minae, for three small books by Philolaus the Pythagorean. One of the first libraries, the Alexandrian in Greece, was founded in 300 BC, with various people procuring books to showcase for the masses.

In Ancient Rome, it became a fashion statement to have a library as part of a household and Roman booksellers flourished. Their shops were called taberna librarii. So great was the desire for books that a law was passed granting scribes the ownership of the material written.

During the Abbasid Caliphate in the east and Caliphate of Cordoba in the west, medieval Islam also encouraged the development of bookshops and dealers. And the great demand of copies of Christian gospels and the bible increased demand for books by scribes and new stationers even more.

Bookselling took on even greater significance in 1470 when Antony Koburger introduced the art of printing. Henry VIII and Edward VI on England tried to meet the demand for books but were stopped by the monarchs of the Tudor dynasty. Regardless, the first patent for a king’s printer was granted to Thomas Berthelet by Henry VIII in 1529 and book printing and thus bookselling progressed from there.  Unfortunately, the great fire of London in 1666 destroyed many of the books of the time because they had been stored in the vaults of St. Paul’s Churchyard. Pity, that.

Which brings me to Barnes & Noble, the bookseller founded by Charles Barnes in 1873. The first actual bookstore was opened in 1917 in New York City by William Barnes, Charles’ son, and G. Clifford Noble, at 31 West 15th Street. In 1932, it moved to its flagship location at 18th Street and Fifth Avenue. I thought of this store today, a store I visited when I was in high school and traveled to New York with my mother for the weekend. I remember walking Fifth Ave, popping into Tiffany’s and other stores, but the one I remember most was Barnes & Noble, the premier bookstore of New York, of the world. The front of the store was sidewalk to ceiling glass, stocked with books, of course, and the inside was pure drug-fueled magic to this budding writer. Today there are 717 stores and some 637 college bookstores. Most now provide a place to curl up with a good book, along with a coffee café because a cup of coffee and an entrancing tome go hand in hand.

Walk into a bookstore and breathe in history, romance, war, magic, mysticism, drama, comedy, literature, art, film, poetry, reference and more. I did earlier today when I entered the Barnes & Noble in Westlake Village. It was Sunday morning, and this bookstore on this day was my cathedral, my place of worship.

I worshipped to the tune of nearly $150, and I thank god that such a place exists for addicts like me to get a fix.

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live out loud

May I call you Jimmy?

by Lorin Michel Wednesday, June 15, 2011 7:49 PM

When I was in college, studying Creative Writing and English Literature in order to get my bachelor’s degree at the University of New Hampshire, I did both a lot of writing and a lot of reading, getting lost inside stories that transported me like Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, or journeying back to Shakespearian England to tread the boards and sometimes choking through works that I liked but didn’t love, words that I read but didn’t absorb, like the short stories of James Joyce, the Irish novelist and poet considered one of the most influential and modernist avant-garde writers of the early 20th century, a writer I truly appreciated because I knew I was supposed to but a writer I could never really embrace though I do remember reading and liking – sort of – The Dead, the last short story in his book of short stories entitled Dubliners, about a man named Gabriel who has an epiphany about himself, his wife, their past, the living and the dead, ultimately revealing his smallness and insecurity, an introspective philosophy that I didn’t quite catch at the time because I was only 21 and not yet attuned to the fine art of symbolism as applied to great works of literature and especially as applied by Joyce…

… who would go on to pen one of the novels ranked first by the Modern Library on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century, Ulysses, a book that both paid homage to Homer’s Odyssey – Ulysses is the Latin name for Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s book – and turned it completely on its head with Joyce’s stream-of-consciousness technique (the last episode or chapter is comprised of run-on sentences that employ little to no punctuation), unique structuring, experimental prose, puns, parodies, allusions, humor and obscenities that actually put the book on trial, but which I have never read even though I’ve tried because it’s just too obscure, though I have to admit that his stream of consciousness idea is one that intrigues me as both a writer and a story teller and I’m seriously considering picking the book up again one of these days, after I plow through some of the other piles of books that I haven’t read but want to, to finally read a book that’s actually one of those books that achieves greatness without actually being a great book, a category I suspect many books from the 19th and 20th century fall into, but no matter;

I will open the book about Leopold Bloom and read about his ordinary Dublin day, taking place on the 16th of June 1904, a date that is celebrated annually as Bloomday on the streets of Dublin, Ireland where James Joyce penned his most famous work and all of his works, and where one day I hope to visit, but not until I read that damned book so that I can fully appreciate and participate in this most literary of celebrations even as tonight I trying something a little different as part of my own celebration of James Joyce and that’s the run-on sentence because if you’re still reading, which I sincerely hope you are, you may have realized that this entire post is one, long, drawling, ridiculous sentence: a true celebration of language, grammar and punctuation because even with this whole thing being one sentence, Microsoft Word has not seen fit to underline it in green to tell me that it’s wrong. 

The great first paragraphs from "Rebecca"

by Lorin Michel Thursday, May 26, 2011 3:01 PM

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

"No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkept, not the drive that we had known. At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realised what had happened. Nature had come into her own again and little by, little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. And there were other trees as well, trees that I did not recognise, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled cheek by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered."

 

The great first lines of Rebecca, a haunting novel of psychological secrets and betrayals, whose heroine has no name. It was written by Daphne du Maurier in 1938.

The first edition cover from 1938

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great first paragraphs

The great first paragraphs from "The Magus"

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, May 10, 2011 2:29 PM

"I was born in 1927, the only child of middle-class parents, both English, and themselves born in the grotesquely elongated shadow, which they never rose sufficiently above history to leave, of that monstrous dwarf Queen Victoria. I was sent to a public school, I wasted two years doing my national service, I went to Oxford; and there I began to discover I was not the person I wanted to be.

"I had long before made the discovery that I lacked the parents and ancestors I needed. My father was, through being the right age at the right time rather than through any great professional talent, a brigadier; and my mother was the very model of a would-be major-general’s wife. That is, she never argued with him and always behaved as if he were listening in the next room, even when he was thousands of miles away. I saw very little of my father during the war, and in his long absences I used to build up a more or less immaculate conception of him, which he generally – a bad but appropriate pun – shattered within the first forty-eight hours of his leave."


The opening lines from The Magus by John Fowles, published in 1966 but begun in the 1950s. It’s a fascinating story of physiological illusions that can and do become increasingly dark and serious.

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