Category Archives: First Lines

Lincoln in the Bardo


On our wedding day, I was forty-six, she was eighteen. Now, I know what you are thinking: older man (not thin, somewhat bald, lame in one leg, teeth of wood) exercises the marital prerogative, thereby mortifying the poor young–

But that is false.

That is exactly what I refused to do, you see.

-George Saunders, Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel

The Virginity of Famous Men


At the call center lodged within Clean n’ Soft’s sales and marketing department, five of us earn our livelihoods working twenty-five to forty hours per week. We have no windows in our workplace, but we do have a functioning coffee machine and an eerily glowing man-size box that, if fed the right coins, will disgorge fattening snacks like Snickers bars and Lorna Doone cookies during good weeks, waxen donuts and filling-ruining peanut chew during bad.

-Christine Sneed, “Words That Once Shocked Us,” in The Virginity of Famous Men: Stories

Desert Boys


For a brief but memorable time I belonged to an organization at my high school called, ridiculously, the Future Farmers of the Antelope Valley.

-Chris McCormick, “The Costs and Benefits of Desert Agriculture,” in Desert Boys

This Is the Ritual


When I think of Ireland, John-Paul Finnegan said as we stood on the deck of the ferry while it pulled out of Holyhead, I think of a limitless ignorance. And not just an ignorance, but a wallowing in ignorance, akin to the wallowing in filth of a pig or a naked, demented savage.

-Rob Doyle, “John-Paul Finnegan, Paltry Realist,” in This Is the Ritual: Stories

The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016


As a gardener in a prison, I know a considerable amount about a few plants, the plants that have been in captivity along with me.

-Michelle Scott, “How I Became a Prison Gardener,” in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2016 edited by Rachel Kushner



More than twenty-five years ago, as I sat on the roof of our house watching the neighborhood’s furniture float down the street, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. Everything I owned was under water. The capital of my country was ruined. Mother Earth was exacting its revenge upon its most arrogant inhabitants.

-John Feffer, Splinterlands: A Novel



Rebellion runs in my family’s blood. We have never shown a willingness to accept unthinkingly what authorities told us was right or wrong, in good taste or bad. The repression of imposed conformity has always been something we fought against, no matter what the odds.

-Barney Rosset, Rosset: My Life in Publishing and How I Fought Censorship

On Living

on_living_kerry_eganI don’t know if listening to other people’s life stories as they die can make you wise, but I do know that it can heal your soul. I know this because those stories healed mine.

-Kerry Egan, On Living



I was with my dad the first time I stole something.

It was a little booklet of baby names. I was seven and I devoured word lists: dictionaries, vocabulary sheets, menus. The appeal of this string of names, their pleasing shapes and neat order, felt like a puzzle impossible to solve. I couldn’t ask for it but I couldn’t leave it. I pressed it to my chest as we walked out of Kroger.

-Molly Brodak, Bandit: A Daughter’s Memoir

Dark Money


Oddly enough, the fiercely libertarian Koch family owed part of its fortune to two of history’s most infamous dictators, Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler.

-Jane Mayer, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right