Opening Lines and Last Lines of Novels: A Quiz

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

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