What’s your favorite line?

I’m reading a new middle grade novel from a client, and I came across a line I just love. In it, he is describing a pack of dogs on the attack: “They were a boiling wave of flailing paws and arching backs.” It’s so juicy and descriptive and intriguing. In just a few short words, it says so much about what’s to come.

Great writers amaze me with their capabilities at taking simple words or phrases and turning them into sentences that blend together seamlessly to form the books we love. But, even within a favorite novel there are always a few lines that jump out, that demand to be read again, and that are remembered when you think back to that book in the future.  Miriam talked about favorite last lines on the blog this summer, and it was a fun exercise. When I was young, I remember underlining lines I liked in books as I was reading (in pencil, of course!).

I’d love to hear what your favorite lines are. The ones you go back to or quote or think about fondly when remembering where you were and what you were doing when you were reading that great book. Sometimes it’s harder to remember lines from books than it is song lyrics or movie quotes (some days, I can barely remember my kids’ names), but see what you can come up with, and please share!

15 Responses to What’s your favorite line?

  1. Kendall says:

    One of my favorite lines anywhere is from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I think about it all the time, and every time I read it, it gives me chills:

    “What had Granma Mary Rommely said? ‘To look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.'”

  2. I’ve been a Slaughterhouse-Five fan since I was a teenager, so I have a great love for the simplicity of “So it goes” or even “Poo-tee-weet?”

    My other favorite book is Spin by Robert Charles Wilson, which has a great opening line, “Everybody falls, and we all land somewhere.” The line that always sticks out to me the most, though, though I don’t remember the full text of it, includes the description “water green as papaya leaves”. Not only does it make me picture an exact shade of green water, but the atmosphere of Indonesia (where the characters are by that point) as well.

    • Emily says:

      My memorable line was also penned by Kurt Vonnegut for Slaughterhouse Five:

      “…I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.”

      It was 1969, when the book came out and I was deep in the anti-war movement, his book fed the angst of that period very well. But even more, I was 27, an undergraduate with dreams of a Ph.D., and fighting cancer, and facing yet another surgery. The line resonated so strongly with me I printed it on an index card in block letter and, now, 42 years later, I still have the card.

      So now with a long career behind me, with publishers making silly pronouncement about not wanting to publish novels by senior citizens, I still ask “… myself about the present: how wide it is, how deep it is, how much is mine to keep.”

  3. Gill Avila says:

    It’s from Helen Stringer’s “Spellbinder.” Belladonna Johnson is looking at her serving of shepherd’s pie and spies some diced carrots–“If there was one thing she couldn’t stand, it was stealth vegetables.”

  4. From Sara Zarr’s HOW TO SAVE A LIFE: “And that’s how I belong to her and she belongs to me and we all belong to each other and I’m home.”
    Actually, the whole book is my favorite line.

  5. ryan field says:

    “She knew, with prescient clarity, she would remember this night for the rest of her life.” …Anne Rivers Siddons. Hope I quoted verbatim. It’s been a while.

  6. One of my favorite lines of all time isn’t even a full line, and it doesn’t come from a novel or even prose, but from the poem “Howl,” by William Ginsburg: “…boxcarsboxcarsboxcars…” When I read that for the first time, I was stunned by its brilliance. Another line that’s a favorite is a quote from Tom Waits: “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” As you can see, I gravitate toward word play and linguistic cleverness.

  7. Mardi says:

    From Jim Harrison’s novel “Dalva”: “In the main, we die seven times more slowly than our dogs.”

    He gets all the biggies in there — mortality, nature, humanity and plot — but does it so beautifully and so Jim Harrisony.

  8. Meredith Gilley says:

    I have a few — James Joyce and Shakespeare were from high school days and Shel Silverstein from when I was little. I think I had to read Macbeth at least 20 times as we put it on as a play in high school and we used the original text (our school was very arts centered and I was the stage manager for the play so had to call lines — I think for awhile, I’d memorized over half the play – haha.)

    The first line from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man still makes me laugh for some reason — “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow coming down along the road…”

    Another — when I am irritated about having to do something I don’t really want to do, I think of the line from the Shel Silverstein poem — “Somebody has to polish the stars, they’re looking a little bit dull.”

    And finally, from Macbeth, just because I love how powerful a line it is…
    “Macbeth: … Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more: it is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
    Signifying nothing.”

  9. Diana says:

    From Julie Garwood’s The Secret: “One whisper added to a thousand whispers will become a roar of discontent even the church can not ignore.”

    You can substitute any large organization in a position of power for the word church and it still applies.

  10. Stacey says:

    Thanks to all of you who have shared your favorite lines. There are some great ones here. Keep them coming!!

  11. Meredith Gilley says:

    Ahhhhh — now you have me thinking back and I had to add a few more from Robert McCammon — Swan Song and Boy’s Life… I can’t believe I didn’t add these in on my first post as he has always been a major influence!

    “I had always wondered what Reverend Lovoy meant when he talked about “grace.” I understood it now. It was being able to give up something that it broke your heart to lose, and be happy about it.”
    ― Boy’s Life

    “…the magic place of soul-soothing dreams, where the silken sheen of polished glass under soft lights made her think of how lovely Heaven was going to be.”
    ― Swan Song

    “Once upon a time, we had a love affair with fire.”
    ― Swan Song

    These books are so marked up from places I underlined, that I am not sure I will be able to get through them — guess it’s time for some new copies!

    Great Idea Stacey and thank you for making me think of some of my old favorites — it really takes me back!

  12. Chiming in late, but someone mentioned Shel Silverstein, which made me remember this line from his poem “Lester”:

    “In a world of apples and kisses and shoes
    He wasted his wishes on wishing.”

  13. Simone says:

    “Wild nights are my glory” – A Wrinkle in Time

    “I know no medium: I never in my life have known any medium in my dealings with positive, hard characters, antagonistic to my own, between absolute submission and determined revolt. I have always faithfully observed the one, up to the moment of bursting, sometimes with volcanic vehemence” – Jane Eyre (bit long)

    “I give myself very good advice, but I very seldom follow it.” – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

    Plenty more but these came to mind first!

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