Being Judgmental

It’s raining buckets outside, and for once I’m not out in it. Scout’s asleep, all the lights in the house are off, and I’m wrapped up in a blanket preparing to write away while watching the rain soak the world around me. This is a good moment, folks.

I’ve been thinking about first lines a lot this week. A friend sent me the first line of her novel to critique, which was fabulous and totally made me want to read the rest. But when I went to reciprocate, I didn’t have the guts to send just the first line. I had to give her the whole first page, because I couldn’t bear to place the brunt of judgment on one sentence.

A while ago, I wrote this post about some of the truly fabulous first lines in literature. I will admit that a good first line has a certain magical quality about it, but I sometimes feel like it’s achieved this idolized status as the only standard by which your book will be judged.

When I pick up a book I know nothing about, the cover is the first place I look. Then the flap description, then the first page. Not the first line. I give almost every book the entire first page to draw me in, and more if the flap description presents an intriguing concept.

Not even that much is enough to give me a good idea of whether I’ll like it sometimes. I passed the Ranger’s Apprentice series over for years because I didn’t love the cover, and the flap description didn’t speak to me. I even read the entire first chapter and was unimpressed. But I finally picked it up on my sister’s recommendation, and the second chapter had me hooked. I burned through all twelve books in about two months.

So I’m curious: how do you judge a book? By its cover? By its first line? By its description? By some combination of factors? Does the first line really deserve all the weight of responsibility we place on it?

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9 Comments

  1. I don’t think I have ever based a book of it’s first line! I go for cover, description, and then usually I’ll flip to somewhere in the middle/the last page to see how I feel about the writing. Also, I always go to Goodreads and see what others felt about it – the general rating and why people do or don’t like it.

  2. I’m actually fairly similar to you. I don’t judge the classics by their covers, especially if they’re copies of the originals, because they just didn’t do fancy covers back then.

    I love intriguing covers, and I always read the flap description and at least the first page. I’ve read so many books that I loved where the first lines were dreadful. But that didn’t sway me.

    I usually don’t take recommendations from people because I’ve been disappointed so many times by what people recommend. I usually trust my gut instincts and judge a book by its merits to hook me within a page or two. And yes, I’ve had to read a chapter or two before some books became attached to me, but I’m not always that patient.

  3. i hated the cover of the Kiera Cass boks “The Selection”etc.i didn’t want to go anywhere near them, but i pushed through my cover prejudice and enjoyed the books. i must admit if the first chapter isn’t good i’m dropping the book like a hot potato.

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