We take a break from poetry here at Following Pulitzer for a little game I’ve been playing with friends on Facebook for 5 years now—a game in which I post the first lines of a diverse array of novels and short stories, and people have to guess them (without cheating with Google or any other resource, online or in print, other than their own brains and the brains of the people next to them). I think it’s fun, or at least fun enough to do once a year, and this year, on November 1st, I thought a “first line contest” sounded like something fun for the blog too. I’m still posting the usual contest at Facebook—for those of you who are my friends in person and are connected with me there—but I’m posting the same contest here for my friends out here in the blog world, to see if you think this is fun also. If it works, it’ll be a very occasional feature here, probably once or twice a year, and if it doesn’t, I hope it’ll be fun attempting once, at least. I’ll emphasize that anybody is welcome to have a guess, and I encourage anybody happening by to give it their best shot! You have nothing to lose, after all, and the guessing is kind of entertaining, I think, especially when multiple guesses and comments lead somebody to work out the answer to one of these. In four previous runs, we have never gotten all 11 books “solved”—I’ve always had to reveal the title of the toughest example—so I’m hoping we break that streak this year.
How does this work? I’m posting the first line of a novel or short story—at times I have a little discretion as to what “counts” as the first line, but I try not to cheat too egregiously. The books/stories can be from any time period or genre, for children or for adults, and about the only thing tying all of them together in any meaningful sense is that all of them are on my bookshelves (and that they haven’t appeared in any of the previous four contests)—this year’s only new wrinkle is that I’ve decided to allow myself to post a book or two that I haven’t read all of (although I like the book and know it reasonably well). Your job is to guess the author and title of the work I’ve quoted from. You are bound by honor and my express request not to Google or use any other reference sources for this contest—otherwise this would be really dull—although discussing it with friends and family (as long as they abide by the no Google/other resource rule) is acceptable and even encouraged. The point is to see if you can dredge up from your memory enough to figure out the author/title of something I’m betting you’ve read, or even just heard enough about to be able to guess it from the first line. My only caveat as far as using a non-human source—if you own a copy of the work, it’s fine to check it before you post it as a guess. Any other reference work or tool, print or online, is strictly forbidden. If it’s driving you crazy and you end up Googling or something to end your own agony, I understand, but don’t share your findings with the rest of us!
Otherwise, have fun. 🙂 Feel free to offer half-guesses, or lists of titles “it can’t be although it sounds like it”, or comments of any kind: usually we’re able to crowd-source the titles pretty rapidly. Some are intended to be easy, some harder, and a couple I’d be surprised if anyone can manage to guess right away. Any that don’t fall in a day or two, I’ll start offering some hints about, to see if I can nudge us to completion. The only other new wrinkle this year is that I’ve cross-posted this here, and if a blog reader gets one of these right, I’ll do my best to update the note on Facebook (and vice versa). Oh, and one clue, in connection with this blog—one of the first lines below is from a Pulitzer winner I’ve read, which means it has been the title of a blog post of mine…maybe that will jog a memory? And now, for the 2013 candidates:
1. The intense interest aroused in the public by what was known at the time as “The Styles Case” has now somewhat subsided.
2. I’ll make my report as if I told a story, for I was taught as a child on my homeworld that Truth is a matter of the imagination. The soundest fact may fail or prevail in the style of its telling: like that singular organic jewel of our seas, which grows brighter as one woman wears it and, worn by another, dulls and goes to dust.
3. I have just returned from a visit to my landlord—the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country!
4. Keith, the boy in the rumpled shorts and shirt, did not know he was being watched as he entered room 215 of the Mountain View Inn. Neither did his mother and father, who both looked hot and tired.
5. A man with binoculars. That is how it began: with a man standing by the side of the road, on a crest overlooking a small Arizona town, on a winter night.
6. On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York.
7. This inscription could be seen on the glass door of a small shop, but naturally this was only the way it looked if you were inside the dimly lit shop, looking out at the street through the plate-glass door. [The sentence refers to an image of reversed letters that appears at the top of the page.]
8. The first outbreak I saw was in a remote village that officially had no name. The residents called it “New Dachang,” but this was more out of nostalgia than anything else.
9. A throng of bearded men, in sad-coloured garments, and grey, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.
10. In the land of Ingary, where such things as seven-league boots and cloaks of invisibility really exist, it is quite a misfortune to be born the eldest of three. Everyone knows you are the one who will fail first, and worst, if the three of you set out to seek your fortunes.
11. When I reached ‘C’ Company lines, which were at the top of the hill, I paused and looked back at the camp, just coming into full view below me through the grey mist of early morning. We were leaving that day.