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“The year I began to say vahz instead of vase, a man I barely knew nearly accidentally killed me.”

This is how Amy Hempel‘s short story “The Harvest” begins. I do recommend you go read the linked story if you have a minute. Or if you love to read. Definitely if you’re an aspiring writer.

Amy Hempel Collected works

Amy Hempel

The rest of the story is a dizzyingly beautiful exercise in unreliable narration, or perhaps of the journey we writers make when we go from real-life incident to fiction.

I now want to read everything she’s written by way of a short story, and turns out she’s written an amazing amount. Have gone and reserved her collected short stories at the Singapore National Library.

Have you ever been so dazzled by a sentence from an author that you wanted to read more of his or her work? If yes, leave me the author’s name/ work in  the comments. I shall be grateful.

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her forthcoming literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and will be published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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29 Comments

  • I know you probably know it, but still: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” (Jane Austen, “Pride and Prejudice”).
    I don’t get dazzled by the first sentence of a book too often, but you know, I’m tempted to reread the book I’ve just finished if the ending enchants me. A few examples: “A Widow for One Year” by J. Irving, where the last sentence refers to an event that took place earlier in the book and is very powerful, “Watership Down” by Richard Adams with the first sentence being: “The primroses were over” and the last words “…the first primroses were beginning to bloom”.
    PS Thank you for visiting my blog 😉

  • I have been dazzled by many authors over the years…most recently by Jeannette Walls. I read her first book ‘The Glass Castle’ and immediately looked for her second ‘Half Broke Horses’. Thanks for visiting and following my blog. Yours is delicious!

  • bwhite21 says:

    Thank you for following my blog Quiklaw. I will be reviewing more fiction soon. I prefer “Harvest” which I reviewed and is short-listed for a Booker to the short-story “The Harvest”. It is apples and oranges, but from a writing style Mr. Crace really dazzles. I have just finished reading two short stories which I would suggest. One was by Amos Oz and it was publshed in Harper’s Sept. 2013 issue. It is about two women. The other is from The Pen/O’Henry 2012 Prize winning stories. For aspiring writers Ann Packer’s “Things Said or Done” is in my view great. In this anthology Ms. Packer also describes the choices she made during multiple edits. The story reminded me of the fact that comedians are very serious people. It is funny, and not so.

    I also have reviewed many excellent novels that are well worth reading for pleasure and to improve your writing.

  • You’re right. I read it and it was great and wonderfully mind-bending.

  • I will love Joe Abercrombie forever because of the prologue to “Best Served Cold”.

    “The sunrise was the color of bad blood.”

  • mr pratchett and mr gaiman combined begin their book good omens with the line “it was a nice day.” it only gets better from there. i’ve read two copies of it to pieces, and carry it around everywhere.

  • thanks for that link damayanti..It’s high time that our budding writers come out of wafer thin story line and the regular story teller aerobatics.Well, the works such as “The Harvest” gives us every reason to smile.

  • Thank you for liking my Weekly Writers Workout blog post and leading me to your site! I love many of your recent posts because they are so down-to-earth and relatable. I am curious to check out the #IWSG (Not that any of us ever need that, I’m sure). I will be excited to keep up with you in the future!

  • My God, that first line is so good, I clicked the link just to see if you had included the rest! But I love this post too, so I will leave you my favorite first line as well. 🙂
    It’s from the Meaning of Night: “After killing the red haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”

  • Liv Miles says:

    Virginia Woolf’s “A Haunted House.” A short and beautiful read that begins with the line, “Whatever hour you awoke there was a door shutting.” As haunting as the story itself!

  • Marthin says:

    Reblogged this on Personal Sentiments and commented:
    I could tell that the lawyer liked to say court of law. He told me he had taken the bar three times before he had passed. He said that his friends had given him handsomely embossed business cards, but where these lovely cards were supposed to say Attorney-at-Law, his cards said Attorney-at-Last….

  • That first line was definitely eye grabbing. I think there are few short stories that I have read that are more confusing than this one. But it was one of the best that I’ve read in a long time. Great find and exaggeration and outright lying really helped the story shine ironically enough.

  • Ah, those first lines. The bain of a writer’s existence. It has to be perfect or readers won’t want to know more.

    And Amy did good.

  • Book Blather says:

    Wow, talk about a first line. I think that author who dazzled me with such lines was ‘The Cure for Death by Lightening’ by Gail Andersson-Dargatz – I think you’d like her writing. 🙂

  • “Man has been called a rational being, but rationality is a matter of choice… Man has to be a man–by choice; he has to hold his life as a value–by choice; he has to learn to sustain it–by choice; he has to discover the values it requires and practice his virtues by choice. A code of values accepted by choice is a code of morality.” Ayn Rand.#AtlasShruged

  • “The one worrying thing was that I might not be given time to carry out the whole scheme. I felt as though I was about to fill a space in the world that was meant for me and had long awaited me, a mold, as it were, made for me alone, but discovered by me only this very moment. I was a molten substance, impatient, unendurably impatient, to pour into my mold, to fill it full, without air bubbles or cracks, before I cooled and stiffened.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

  • What a fantastic story

  • ncbek says:

    I think it is generally the first couple lines that often got many readers started. I can’t imagine how you would muddle through a few pages worth of dreary uninspiring characters before the words became exciting enough to get interested in and continue the book. I think it is often those first few linked passages that get anyone to push on through a larger piece.

    ~N
    ———————–
    “I am sick and tired of the same old sentences, so I made my own.”

    http://ncbek.wordpress.com – come check it out!

  • violafury says:

    My father and I played “Great first lines of novels.” Of course, most cited, was Charles Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” Right now, I can’t even recall the book’s name, as I apparently last read it during the Punic Wars. One that really sticks with me is from a series of James Thurber’s early life, when he was writing for his college’s newspaper; “Has anyone noticed the sores on top of the horses heads in the Veterinarian’s Barn?” I was about 13 when I first read that and I still find it screamingly funny. Of course, later on in one of his books on writing, (he may have been at the New Yorker at that time,) Thurber goes on to admonish the writer to be sure that his title is spelled correctly. He said that he would really have a very difficult time concentrating on anything titles “The Haunted Yatch.” Wonderful post, Damyanti!

  • Vidya Sury says:

    I loved it, Damyanti!
    One author that mesmerizes me is Rohinton Mistry. When I read one book by him, I absolutely had to read the rest. 🙂

  • I’m from New Zealand, and here we pronounce “vase” as vahz. You’d draw strange looks if you pronounced it the other way.

    I recently read Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray.” The vivid imagery absolutely captivated me, so much so that I bought his anthology!

  • vevacha says:

    That was an amazing short story, can see why you were hooked. Thanks for sharing!

    At the moment I really love JG Ballard’s writing; he seems to be able to pick the exact right combination of words for everything. It’s uncanny. I wish I could do it half as well as he does.

  • Arlee Bird says:

    Yes I have, but don’t expect me to remember any names.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

  • dalo2013 says:

    Great question. Pat Conroy is the author, and the one first line I loved was: “I was born to be a point guard, but not a very good one.” It was from his 2002 book, ‘My Losing Season’ which gave great insight to his earlier novels (the incredible ‘The Great Santini’ and the more well known ‘The Prince of Tides’…

  • Phil Taylor says:

    That is a GREAT first line!

  • I recently read this novel “All for a Song” by Allison Pittman. This paragraph really blew me away: “Her mind raced back to their lunch at the Golden Bowl Chinese Restaurant where she’d told him so much – too much – about her wandering brother. Perhaps he’d picked up on the thread of envy she’d kept so closely stitched to her heart. He seemed poised to pull on it, unravel the truth, or worse, wrap it around her yearning to bring her brother home.” I just thought that was amazing dramatic imagery!

  • ekeene4 says:

    Words strain,
    Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
    Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
    Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
    Will not stay still.
    —T. S. Eliot, American poet and playwright, Burnt Norton, 1935

  • helenmidgley says:

    OMG, that story makes me want to bow my head in shame at my pathetic attempts at being a writer, lol. It was fab, thanks for linking to it 🙂

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