Category Archives: First Lines

The Best American Essays 2016


On my twenty-seventh birthday, in a two-bedroom bungalow in New Jersey, my father murdered his live-in girlfriend, her fifteen-year-old daughter, then shot himself. I never sensed the shots.

-Lisa Nikolidakis, “Family Tradition,” in The Best American Essays 2016 edited by Jonathan Franzen



Of the thirty-three records that Hank Williams placed on Billboard country and western Top 10 charts during his short lifetime, only two made the mainstream pop chart, and even those had much to do with pop artists like Tony Bennett having their own hits with them first. Yet, more than sixty years after his premature death at age twenty-nine, no country artist living or dead can approach the familiarity the general public has with Hank Williams, whose sad, lonely songs are playing right this minute on some roadhouse jukebox.

-Mark Ribowsky, Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams

Taduno’s Song


The morning the letter arrived he was like a man in a shell, deaf to the voices in his head from a distant place, calling him, imploring him with old promises.

-Odafe Atogun, Taduno’s Song: A Novel

The White City


It was the end of winter. Under the sky that had always been there, now dark, the house still looked almost new. It had a sort of shine to it and was surrounded by nothing but silence and snow.

-Karolina Ramquist, The White City: A Novel

The One-Eyed Man


That morning, in an effort to restore some normalcy to my weekend, I left the house and strolled to the coffee shop for a Grande Americano, just like a regular, irrational person.

-Ron Currie, The One-Eyed Man: A Novel

Heritage of Smoke


Davor had been wheezing for days, and he gasped in his sleep and talked about Armageddon, global warming, and the vanished Boeing 777. Even awake, he talked about the 777 as the ascension airplane–all the people onboard went straight to heaven, and the rest remained on the ground, awaiting the wrath of God.

-Josip Novakovich, “When the Saints Come,” in Heritage of Smoke: Stories

We Are Data


We are “well filled with data” in today’s networked society. If you don’t believe me, open your computer and roam the web for five minutes. In a period of time only slightly longer than the average television commercial break, you will have generated, through your web activity, an identity that is likely separate from the person who you thought you were. In a database far, far away, you have been assigned a gender, ethnicity, class, age, education level, and potentially the status of parent with x number of children.

-John Cheney-Lippold, We Are Data: Algorithms and the Making of Our Digital Selves

The Lioness is the Hunter


The receptionist parted her cranberry-colored hair in the middle and showed a gap between her front teeth when she smiled. I’m a sucker for little imperfections like that. I wanted to feed nickels into that slot all day, just to watch her lights blink on. Instead I gave her a card.

-Loren D. Estleman, The Lioness is the Hunter: An Amos Walker Mystery

Locked In


The statistics are as simple as they are shocking: The United States is home to 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. We have more total prisoners than any other country in the world, and we have the world’s highest incarceration rate, one that is four to eight times higher than those in other liberal democracies, including Canada, England, and Germany.

-John Pfaff, Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform



Don’t trust anyone who promises you a new life. Pick-up artists, lifestyle gurus, pyramid-scheme face cream evangelists, Weight Watchers coaches: These people make their living off your failures.

-Lindy West, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman