12 Books With Epic First Chapters That'll Hook You Immediately
The first chapter of a book is arguably the most important part. The author spends an extraordinary amount of time writing, rewriting, and perfecting it. The best first chapters of books set up the world you're about to dive into, reveal the voice of the story, introduce main characters, set up the high stakes, and hint at just a sliver of conflict — enough to keep you intrigued. It's not an easy thing to do, but for the writers that pull it off, it's a sure sign that you're in for a good book.
My first rule of thumb when I pick out a new book (and not judge it by its cover), is to read the first line and first few paragraphs. If I'm hooked with that little of information, then I'm sold. I can be picky, but the method hasn't failed me yet. And if you're the same way, then I'm sure you'll recognize some of the incredible books below.
Investing in a new story is exciting as well as time-consuming, so you want to make sure the book you're about to spend a several solid hours with is going to be worthwhile. And I can guarantee that these 12 books with heart-pounding, exciting, and unique introductions will satisfy your epic first-chapter needs:
1. Lolita by Vladimir Nobokov
The first chapter is summed up into four paragraphs — four incredible paragraphs sounding out the name of Lolita, the clear and elegant words to tell us how deeply in love/lust/obsession this character is with her. The tone, the voice, and the conflict at hand is all set up for this tangled and twisted story in just a few sentences. Nobokov can sway you into wanting to read about an adult in love with a child, and that is pure, freakish talent.
2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
When it comes to first chapters, Collins knew how to pace certain things out, hitting us with the mysterious term "the reaping" at the end of paragraph one. (It has elements of Shirley Jackson's epic short story "The Lottery.") Only to then introduce the idea of District 12 a page later. The world of Panem is intense, and instead of shoving this new dystopia in our faces, it's given in fragmented pieces that keeps us interested. I remember reading this first chapter and thinking that I was in trouble because I was already in love with a book about children fighting to the death.
3. The Martian by Andy Weir
If there's ever a contest as to who wins an opening line for a book, I would put The Marian in the running: "I’m pretty much f**ked. That’s my considered opinion. F**ked." The comedic value and high stakes is given within the first few sentences. Mark Watney, an astronaut and botanist, is abandoned on Mars and he's screwed. There's not much hope for Watney to survive this catastrophe, but just enough to already get our fingers crossed that he'll make it out somehow. The scientific details and voice are what makes this first chapter epic.
4. Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
Tyler Durden is certainly a character readers can't help but want to know more about, one that would make any reader stop and grip a book tighter. Especially while he's holding a gun to the narrator's neck, talking of immortality and death. Oh, and while that's all going on, a bomb is also set to go off in the next 10 minutes. As the countdown decreases, the story is slowly revealed, making this first chapter a nerve-wracking experience.
5. The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern
With the use of second person, Morganstern invites you into the Night Circus and there's no turning back from there. It's not an average circus, but one stripped of the colors and only opens when the sun sets. The anticipation is clearly met from the intro and just like any circus act, it hypnotizes you to keep reading further into this dark and mysterious story following two young magicians.
6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
With an opening line of "It was a pleasure to burn," I'm not sure how you can't be hooked immediately. Since Fahrenheit 451 lacks chapters but is made up in parts, the first intro to the story sets the stage for burning books. It puts the reader in a state of fear and curiosity all at once, and with Bradbury's magnificent storytelling, he leads you from one clue to the next with new characters and Guy Montague's sudden wonder if what he's doing is right.
7. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
Not only does O'Brien introduce the compelling Jimmy Cross right off the bat, but he sets the stage for the intricate outline of this story by switching between backstory and the details of each gun every solider carries. The Things They Carried is split up into different stories rather than chapters, but each one easily pulls the reader further into Vietnam, the horrors to come, and the truth of love and war — and how they aren't very different from one another.
8. Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides
The calming intro to Middlesex is what enticed me to keep reading further, along with the gender-identity and hundreds of issues the main character, Calliope Stephanides, or Cal later on, faces. The way the Stephanides family is explained in the first chapter sets up the reader for certain expectations, and while this story goes into many different directions, you know from then on that this story will be one you'll never forget.
9. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon
I've never been someone interested in reading about a dead dog (because who is?), but somehow that's not the case for Haddon's incredible novel. Once again, the voice of the main character, Christopher John Francis Boone, is clear and unique — one that you want to keep reading no matter what he's talking about. This first chapter is emotionally building and will keep you hooked until you find out the mystery behind the dead dog, among the many mysteries to solve along the way.
10. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
The first chapter, titled "Every Little Hurricane," starts this novel-in-stories on an extremely emotional wave. Victor, a small child who is watching his uncles fight like high and low pressure fronts, is also the eyes and ears for our introduction to the Spokane Indian reservation. The poetic prose and metaphorical core that reveals some of Alexie's most rambunctious characters and their stories is what makes this chapter — and the entire book — simply amazing.
11. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Probably one of the most unique intros to a book, The Book Thief sets up the format and the voice in the first piece titled "Death and Chocolate". The narrator, Death himself, points out a very clear observation that we will all die, but to not be afraid. In the ending lines of the first piece, Germans and Jewish characters are mentioned, making the connection of World War II. There's never been a chapter that's thrilled me as much as terrified me as this one, and not only that, but it also intrigues the reader as to who this book thief is, and what's to come next.
12. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
The first Harry Potter book's first chapter hooked millions of us on a series that we're still madly in love with today. Who knew staring off with such a horrid family like the Dudleys would become one of the most epic first chapters of all time? Starting off the magical story at a very normal place like 4 Privet Drive, was the perfect setting to begin introducing magical owls, mysterious cloaked people, and the most epic name of all: Potter.
Images: duncan c/flickr; Giphy