Some First Sentences are Meaner to Their Mamas than Other First Sentences

On the last song on side two of what I believe was The Smiths' finest album, The Queen is Dead (though long may she live!), Morrissey made the obvious, but still amusing, observations that "some girls are bigger than others" and "some girls' mothers are bigger than other girl's mothers".  Here is the song, if you like, for your listening (dis)pleasure: "Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others".   I believe the same obvious (hopefully amusing?) observation can be made of first sentences in certain iconic novels. 

Consider what is arguably the corpulent mother of all first sentences, from The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman ...

"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about when they begot me; had they duly considered how much depended upon what they were then doing; - that not only the production of a rational Being was concerned in it, but that possibly the happy formation and temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his mind; - and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of his whole house might take their turn from the humours and dispositions which were then uppermost: ---Had they duly weighed and considered all this, and proceeded accordingly, ---I am verily persuaded I should have made a quite different figure in the world from that in which the reader is likely to see me."

... contrasted with what amounts to maybe the preeminent anorexic mother of modern first sentences -- and an anorexic mother, I might add, who is probably in possession of a sordid cocaine habit and possibly child pornography to boot -- "People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles".  Indeed people are afraid to merge on freeways, Mr. Ellis.  No doubt they are afraid to merge on more that just freeways with so many more psychos (American grown or otherwise) out there today than there were almost thirty years ago when Less Than Zero was published.

Thankfully, not all first sentences are mothers or, for that matter, heterosexual mothers, like Tristam Shandy's in-the-sack example above.  Because some first sentences are homosexual men, a la Earthly Powers': "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me," thanks to Anthony Burgess' progressive ethos of inclusivity regarding all sexual orientations among first sentences.

 cover by Hadyn Symons
Some first sentences are bigger than other first sentences when it comes to flat out unsettling (or flat out crazy!), such as 1984s "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." Um.  Like.  WTF, Mr. Orwell?  Or that Franz Kafka first sentence in The Metamorphosis, where the stricken man awakes one day and discovers he's become a cockroach.  Some first sentences are more cuckoo than others!

cover by Loki-Luo
Worse, far worse, some first sentences are meaner to their mamas than other first sentences, no matter how big or diminutive they be.  "Mama died today."  Or so he says.  And yet this strange, The Stranger's Gregor Samsa, can't even remember (according to that awful, on the cusp of being matricidal, second sentence) whether his mama died today or the day before?  Is that any way for any narrator to be remembering their mama, Mr. Camus?!  My mama practically sacrificed her very life every day for me, and you made it so he can't even have the decency to remember the damn day she died?  

cover by Mina Bach
I'd planned on writing more about how some first sentences are bigger than other first sentences and so on, but I'm incensed now, Albert Camus mistreating that mama like that. When I began this post, I felt great, it was clearly the best of times, but now?  Now it's the worst of times!  Maybe I'll come back and finish up with more first sentences later, when I'm feeling better.  Or maybe, should somebody out there (is there anybody out there?) ever read this post about first sentences, they might leave a comment and mention some of their favorite first sentences too, no matter the sentence's size, sexual orientation, mama-meanness (or lack thereof). 


Rachel Resnick's autograph (Love Junkie: A Memoir)

There's a shocking and downright revolting scene of self-degradation in Gravity's Rainbow that almost made me gag the first time I read it — the only time I will ever read it, it was so gross, thank you very much, Mr. Pynchon! — that I never thought in a gazillion years I'd see another variation of in serious literature again, until reading Rachel Resnick's riveting memoir, Love Junkie, chronicling the years of her harrowing sex addiction and self-destructive spiral into increasingly exploitative (if not abusive) relationships the like of which cost her so much psychologically and emotionally I'm frankly floored she came through the chaos with what was left of her shredded sanity and self-esteem intact enough to write so rationally and well about the ruinous experiences that might have driven anyone else not as resourceful to suicide.  Her lust for sex and acceptance almost killed her.  But she survived.  And I have her autograph and inscription to prove it! See?

The inscription from the 2009 Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is awesome, exciting to read, and probably the longest inscription I have in my collection, filling in nearly every nook (while avoiding writing over the title, byline and publisher name) of available space on the title page, and one of the lengthiest I've seen period.  I was going to transcribe the inscription for easier reading, as I generally do with the inscriptions gathered here, but Rachel Resnick's cursive handwriting is impeccable and needs no interpretive aid at all.  As for the details of that shocking Pynchonesque scene I mentioned at the outset?  Sorry, but as they say, a gentlefreak doesn't read and tell.

more autographs


Meeting My Grandfather on Route 66, Vol. V (Kansas & Missouri)


Into Kansas at
1:05.  Baxter
Springs thru
"archway" of lake
Yalena, Kansas


Only six lines for Kansas.  Route 66 barely cut through the southeast corner of the state for a handful of miles, as it angled increasingly northeast toward Chicago and into Missouri.

Into Missouri

at 1:34.  Into
Joplin¹ at 1:45.  In
city, a young boy drove
up by car and
ask where we
were from.  Said
he was from
Redlands but
had been back
here about 6 mo.


Into Carthage
Leave U.S.
66 here for
first time
since leaving
California.  And
take 71 U.S.

as far
as Nevada
Came by camp
Clark Missouri
National Guards
south of Nevada
Leave U.S. 71
and take U.S. 54
out of Nevada, east


over terrible rough
detour and had
a flat tire.  Stopped
to fix it at 6:05
start on at
Happened to be in
shade to change
Car registers
29937 when
he² put on
new Riverside
tire.  Back on
54 at 7:12

Seems like Heaven
if it can just


last on pavement
Stop at Bolivar
Mo. at Bolivar
Camp at 7:20
Had drove 418 mi
miles today
To bed at 10.
{erased line}
Up at 4:10.
Start out at 5:00
just as the town
clock struck
real close to
where we
camped.  Fine
Thru B____ and Buffalo
then Lunas.


out of Dallas County
into Camden county
at 6:10
Thru Branch,
Mack's Creek,
Roach, Beautiful
scenery, timber
Niangua river
{two lines scratched out}
By Lako Cottage
camp.  Real nice
Pass another
nice tourist camp
by Lakeaway Cottage


Linn creek {word scratched out}
{three lines scratched out}

Over Bridge
at River Glaize River
½ mi long.  Sure

Zebra --
crossed road

that goes to
Ozark Beach
Men working


Enter Miller Co
at 7:30. a.m
Leave Miller Co
and go into Camden
Co. again.  Then
Back into Miller

Co again and
stop at Dam
at 7:35.  Had drove
80 miles this
quite a sight
{can't make out words} hadn't
seen anything

like it.


{skipped line}
Aurora Springs
Into Eldon

at 8:12.  Stop
and eat at 
Cousin Julius
Roark's sandwich

shop.  See Cliff
Leisher, Cousin Willard
Roark, Clarence
Roy Currence.
Start on home
and stop at
Gertrude's cousin

Devil's Elbow Bridge, MO, today (photo: Greg Goodman)


Start on at
Home at
9:50.  Had drove
102 miles this
a.m.  Making
a total of

2,065 miles
from San Pedro
to Dad's.  Take
{three lines scratched out}
I paid the kids
$26 for my trip


1. Joplin, MO: birthplace of Langston Hughes
2. By "he" he meant his brother Stan. 
3. By "cross" he meant "across".
4. I'm assuming by "kids" he meant his companions -- his older siblings -- Stan and Gertrude. 

(more Route 66 posts)


Archaic Review Copy Paraphernalia; or, How Publishers Once Actually Routinely Marketed Even Unknown & Unproven Literary Talent (case in point: The Night Letter by Paul Spike)

Interesting find today.  Tucked into the front flyleaf of Paul Spike's first novel published under his real name, The Night Letter (Spike also authored Jabberwocky under one of his noms de guerre "Ralph Hoover"), was his promotional shot (replete with typewritten credits); an official postcard from G.P. Putnam's Sons for reviewers; and an 11"x17" tri-fold gushing letter of praise from a member of their marketing department (a publisher with an actual marketing department with a budget for new writers -- who knew?) mailed to every major and minor book reviewer in the U.S.A. and to several prominent others around the world.

These days, even established writers (some National Book Award winning writers), find themselves on their own when it comes to marketing their latest novels.  They must approach venues like Goodreads or LibraryThing and hope some amateur reader will "interview" them regarding their new book.  Or, if they're (un)lucky, in lieu of a real review in print or in an online "magazine", plenty of eager readers without any writing experience whatsoever, are nevertheless happy to post their "reviews" on Amazon.  What a marketing travesty!  Self promotion was unheard of for authors just thirty years ago; it was, after all -- and rightly so -- beneath them.  Yet for 99%-plus of writers publishing today, self promotion has become standard practice in the business, that is if they hope to receive any advertising or promotion for their book. 

Just thought these images would be cool to see how publishing -- and marketing for authors -- once existed in the not-so-distant past.  Almost surreal considering that publishers once spent real money on relatively unknown and unproven literary fiction talent and not just on their dumbed-down genre blockbuster shit.  Cool to see G.P. Putnam's Sons promoting Paul Spike once upon a time, back in 1979.

Copy of my first printing, 1979