Each Sunday the Chicago Tribune books section runs “Opening Lines: A second reading of a book’s first sentences.” Here they publish the first paragraph of previously published novels, usually suggested by readers. On January 7 the Tribune printed the opening of “The Dance of Genghis Cohn” by Romain Gary (Published 1968). The week before it was “The Whistling Season” by Ivan Doig, and on 12/24 “The End of the Affair” by Graham Greene.

I’ll stop there, but I think this is a great regular feature in a books section, as it has prompted me to look through my shelves, not to choose a tome I must commit to reading, but simply to get a taste of past narratives and good beginnings.

Today I chose “Nightwood” by Djuna Barnes (New Directions 1961), which I have not picked up since I was required to read it while earning my undergraduate degree in English at U.C. Berkeley:

“Early in 1880, in spite of a well-founded suspicion as to the advisability of perpetuating that race which has the sanction of the Lord and the disapproval of the people, Hedvig Volkbein—a Viennese woman of great strength and military beauty, lying upon a canopied bed of a rich spectacular crimson, the valance stamped with the bifurcated wings of the House of Hapsburg, the feather coverlet an envelope of satin on which, in massive and tarnished gold threads, stood the Volkbein arms—gave birth, at the age of forty-five, to an only child, a son, seven days after her physician predicted that she would be taken.

Turning upon this field, which shook to the clatter of morning horses in the street beyond, with the gross splendour of a general saluting the flag, she named him Felix, thrust him from her, and died.”

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