5 First Lines, from 5 Things You Should Read

by a contributor

from Melissa Swantkowski, author of What It Has to Do With Really, Is My Lunch:

  1. “It happened in the late and forlorn period of complete disruption, at the time of the liquidation of our business.” Bruno Schulz’s “Father’s Last Escape” in which Father, dying and not for the first time, becomes a crustacean and torments the family with his anatomy and his presence. He explores the world from his new perspective. Mother boils him into a grey, but not yet lifeless lump. But the family cannot eat him. Read this because my description is topical and because really no description of this story can do it justice.
  2. “My name is Ruth.” Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping was published in 1980. I first read it in 2010. I have read it twice, so far, and it’s quite possible, I will read it twenty more times, or until I have it memorized or have otherwise internalized or dissected the magic in Robinson’s language. I am okay with this, whether it be hyperbole or insanity.
  3. “This is the season when the wasps come back,” begins Kevin Prufer’s collection The Finger Bone (the poem is called “Pastoral”, but my favorite poem is “Terrible Love.” Especially the section “my poor skin/is brailled over with stings…”).
  4. ‘Tell me a story,’ the bearded man sitting on my living-room sofa commands,” from Suddenly, a Knock at the Door, Etgar Keret. In fact, I’d recommend reading all of Etgar Keret. Especially “The Hollow Men” which appears in the collection Missing Kissenger and though very short, will crawl inside of you and take up a novel-sized space.
  5. Herta Muller opens The Land of Green Plums with “When we don’t speak, said Edgar, we become unbearable, and when we do, we make fools of ourselves.” Knowing next to nothing of Ceaucescu’s dictatorship, and literally nothing of the German minority in Romania at this time, I came to this novel via a friend. Had my grasp on history been tighter, I still would have felt plunged into the deep, but Muller created a gauzy, dreamlike landscape relying on repeated imagistic language – “only a belt, a window, a nut, and rope,” death as a sack – the meaning of which is slowly revealed as the novel progresses.