I remember being so excited about World Book Day as a kid. At school we would all get a book token worth one pound, which we could take to a local bookshop and exchange for a book which had, if I remember correctly, been written especially for the event.
The books were always shit, year after year, and I was always so disappointed. Even under double figures, I knew what good writing looked like. Though, I hasten to add, I’ve been working on my craft since childhood and have only recently become a semi-decent wordsmith.
I was going to wax lyrical about being an author and what that entails for me right now as I finish up my latest book, but I’m more in the mood to share the first few lines of some books I love. (This is probably more in the World Book Day spirit anyway.)
Most of my most beloved tomes are in suitcases in a Swedish basement, (think Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez and This Cold Heaven by Gretel Ehrlich) and I can’t remember the first lines from them off the top of my head because I’m terrible. But the ones I do have here are just as precious, and I hope, I hope that you’ll be intrigued enough to check out at least one that you haven’t read before.
P.S. All the books happen to feature wolves. I didn’t do it purposefully. It shows how much I value good writing about wolves, I suppose. Funnily enough, several of the books I was going to feature (which I haven’t opened for ages until today, We Need To Talk About Kevin, I’m looking at you), while being spectacular reads overall, don’t have, in my very humble opinion, the most brilliant opening lines.
P.P.S If there are any spelling mistakes here, it’s my fault as I copied these straight out of the books themselves.
P.P.P.S If you would like to support an author on World Book Day, you can find some of my works over at my Etsy shop, A Wyrd of Her Own. I’m going to be re-launching two poetry books in the coming month, My Heart is a Forest and People of the Sea Ice, and I’ll be putting out a couple of poetry pamphlets and zines, so keep an eye out for those.
I am in a small cabin outside Fairbanks, Alaska, as I write these words. The cold sits down like iron here, and the long hours of winter darkness cause us to leave a light on most of the day. Outside, at thirty below, wood for the stove literally pops apart at the touch of the ax. I can see out across the short timber of the taiga when I am out there in the gray daylight. Go out there. Travelling for hours cross-country you see only a few animal tracks. Perhaps a single ptarmigan or a hare. Once in a while the tracks of a mouse. In the dead of winter hardly anything moves. It’s very hard to make a living. Yet the wolf eats. He hunts in the darkness and stays warm. He gets on out there.– Barry Lopez, Of Wolves and Men
Dark spruce forest frowned on either side the frozen waterway. The trees had been stripped by a recent wind of their white covering of frost, and they seemed to lean towards each other, black and ominous, in the fading light. A vast silence reigned over the land. The land itself was a desolation, lifeless, without movement, so lone and cold that the spirit of it was not even that of sadness. There was a hint in it of laughter, but of a laughter more terrible than any sadness—a laughter that was mirthless as the smile of the sphinx, a laughter cold as the frost and partaking of the grimness of infallibility. It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life. It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.– Jack London, White Fang
One beast and only one howls in the woods by night.– Angela Carter, The Company Of Wolves from the story collection The Bloody Chamber
Say you go alone in the woods. It’s winter, and you’re hungry. So you take up your rifle, put on your deerskin jacket and your boots lined with rabbit fur. Off you trot. Say it’s dawn and the light in the woods is thin. Air clear, and snow on the ground to give the game away. Crow calling your name’ ready-to-roost owl hooting its warning into the fire-filled sky. Fledgling morning, Orion no more than a glimmer now, hunter hanging over hunter.– Sharon Blackie, Wolfskin from the story collection Foxfire, Wolfskin
It’s also the perfect day to link you to books that some of my astoundingly talented friends have written. I hope you’ll check these out too.
The Art Of Darkness / S. Elizabeth
How Saints Die / Carmen Marcus