THE BLOG
01/03/2012 06:37 pm ET | Updated Mar 04, 2012

Best Opening Quote Ever for a Book -- What's Your Pick?

For those who have ever lived in San Francisco or just wished they lived there, the books of Armistead Maupin have long been well known as a guilty pleasure, such fun to read it almost hurts. Turning for the first time to one of the books between covers, as opposed to reading the original San Francisco Chronicle serial version of Tales of the City, one is struck by the quote with which the book opens.

"It's an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco."

This is a great quote even before you read on to see it comes from... Oscar Wilde. Oscar Wilde on San Francisco? The mind boggles.

Does anyone -- in this age of delusional frenzies of time stress -- even bother to read, really to read and consider, the quotes with which authors open their books? Or does everyone breeze by like pedestrians hurrying past a boarded-up Borders at the shopping mall, eager to get to P.F. Chang's?

I also recently reread the Bret Easton Ellis novel Less Than Zero, which I first read the year it came out, when I too was a spoiled twentysomething who thought that the malaise of spoiled twentysomethings was interesting to other people. On first reading I found the novel glib, easy, grating, though crackling with talent; this time I found it important and fascinating, though I limited it to a four-star rating at Goodreads.com, rather than five. Still, this time I was willing to buy Ellis' self-description of himself as a moralist, rather than a nihilist.

Reading Less Than Zero, I could hear in my head as clearly as if I had headphones on the wry, edgy, pained voice of Elvis Costello singing "Oswald and his sister are doing it again/They've got the finest home movies you have ever seen... " and on to the culminating "Everything is less than zero." On this reading I had the strong feeling that the tone of the song, the mood of the song, the entire WORLD of the song, mesh perfectly with the novel. The opening quotes, though, one from the band X and the well known "There's a feeling I get when I look to the West," from Led Zeppelin, feel more like accessories, tasteful, sure, apt, even, but still accessories.

The late U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, whose later time in the Senate was marked by his fierce opposition to the George W. Bush push for war in Iraq, opened his 2008 "Letter to a New President -- which I co-wrote -- with these quotes:

"Show me a true patriot, and I will show a lover not merely of his own country, but of all mankind."
-- Scottish Patriot Andrew Fletcher, 1707

"To be ignorant of what happened before you were born is to be ever a child."
-- Cicero

"The way in which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do."
-- Walter Lippmann

What are some great quotes you've read to open books? Or do you think it's a hackneyed, overused device to open a book with a classy quote?