Opening Lines and Last Lines of Novels: A Quiz

If if you have not read MOBY-DICK (1851) by Herman Melville, you may still recognize the opening line: ''Call me Ishmael.'  It is one of the most famous opening lines in literature.

Sometimes there is a clue to the book in a opening line, such as with ''You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter.''  That is the opening of THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN (1885), the "sequel" written by Mark Twain.

When I first read ''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,'' I knew that I would like THE CATCHER IN THE RYE (1951) by J.D. Salinger.

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1989) by Norman Maclean, opens with ''In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly-fishing.''

A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) by Charles Dickens holds the distinction of having both a memorable (and long) opening sentence - ''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" - and also an often quoted and remembered closing sentence - “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

Do you have a favorite opening or closing line from a novel? Let us know in a comment below.

Try out your literary knowledge with these old and new novel closers. It is a pretty tough 20-questions quiz with only a few clues.  Answers at the bottom.

  1. ''It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.''  
  2. ''It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.''
  3. “I am haunted by waters.”
  4. “It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer." 
  5. “‘Well, I’m back,’ he said.” 
  6. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?’”
  7. “All was well.”
  8. “But there are much worse games to play.”
  9. “All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
  10. “Are there any questions?”
  11. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
  12. “The old man was dreaming about the lions.”
  13. “Tomorrow is another day.”
  14. “One bird said to Billy Pilgrim, 'Poo-tee-weet?’”
  15. “He would be there all night, and he would be there when Jem waked up in the morning.”
  16. “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two of things in my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…”
  17. “He loved Big Brother.”
  18. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
  19. “I am haunted by humans.”
  20. “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath, and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”

  1. The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath 
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  3. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean
  4. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  5. The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien
  6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
  8. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
  9. The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis
  10. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  11. The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
  12. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
  13. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  14. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
  15. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  16. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  17. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
  18. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  19. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  20. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

Modern Radio Comes to America

When did modern radio come to America?

Back in 1906, the American inventor Lee de Forest created an amplifier that made broadcasting possible.

But I will nominate November 1920 when KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania sent out the first-ever regular radio broadcast in the United States. The Harding-Cox presidential election results were sent out “over the ether" - a radio jargon of the time.

Of course, only 5,000 Americans owned radios.

Like many technologies, it didn't seem clear how any money could be made from radio.  But once advertising entered the picture, it was a race to grab a piece of the bandwidth.

Like TV, some people thought radio should be for the public good, used for education and enrichment, and funded by the government. But it took until 1967, when Lyndon B. Johnson signed a law that created National Public Radio.

It only took 2 years for commercial radio to launch. In 1922, the New York station WEAF (later known as WNBC) began selling on-air advertising.

Radio changed our culture. Instantaneous news connected regions and eventually the country. Politicians realized it was a way to connect with people, particularly those that couldn't or didn't read newspapers.

World War II was the first major "radio war" (As Vietnam was the "TV war.")

The advertising model for free listening would be used in TV and then on the Internet.

Fuzzy Logic Makes More Sense Every Day

July 1964 - logician Lotfi Zadeh, New York apartment

He's thinking about basic issues in systems analysis, the unsharpness of class boundaries - the failure of things in the physical world to conform to classical Boolean logic.

Computer science is very true/false, black/white, zero or one.

Summer 1965 - he publishes in Information and Control  what he considered to be fuzzy:

For example, the class of animals clearly includes dogs, horses, birds, etc. as its members and clearly excludes such objects as rocks, fluids, plants, etc. However, such objects as starfish, bacteria, etc. have an ambiguous status with respect to the class of animals. The same kind of ambiguity arises in . . . the “class of all real numbers which are much greater than 1,” or “the class of beautiful women” . . . Yet, the fact remains that such imprecisely defined “classes” play an important role in human thinking, particularly in the domains of pattern recognition, communication of information, and abstraction.

Albert Einstein had written in the 1920s (Geometry and Experience) “So far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain. And as so far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

The sorites paradox (AKA the paradox of the heap) is a paradox that arises from vague predicates.

Here's an example: A heap of sand, from which grains are individually removed. Under the assumption that removing a single grain does not turn a heap into a non-heap, the paradox is to consider what happens when the process is repeated enough times: Is a single remaining grain still a heap? If not, when did it change from a heap to a non-heap?

What about if we define "tall" in humans as being 61 inches or greater - Is someone at 60.9 inches not tall?

Zadeh proposes a fuzzy mathematics made of fuzzy sets, fuzzy logic, fuzzy algorithms, fuzzy semantics, fuzzy languages, fuzzy control, fuzzy systems, fuzzy probabilities, fuzzy events and fuzzy information.

In the 1980s, engineers in Sendai, Japan, incorporated fuzzy logic into the design of the city’s new subway, using it to program what are now the system’s famously smooth starts and stops.

Then comes fuzzy: cameras, washers and dryers, vehicle transmissions and anti-skid braking systems, air-conditioners and thermostats, rice cookers, vacuum cleaners, and unmanned helicopters.

Some don't like this fuzziness. Engineer Rudolph Kálmán called fuzzy logic “a kind of scientific permissiveness.” Mathematician William Kahan dismissed it as “the cocaine of science.”

Since its publication, his inaugural paper has 93,000+ citations, according to Google Scholar.

More mathematical applications of fuzzy logic are yet to come - game theory, geometry, linear programming, probability, statistics, topology. In AI, fuzzy cognitive maps are a tool that researchers are starting to apply in medicine, engineering, defense analysis etc.

Joseph Dauben writes “Fuzzy logic, like chaos theory, helps to handle situations that otherwise would be hard to deal with in a rational, sensible way.”