How Important Is The First Line of A Book?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

One thing I hear a lot in the publishing world is how important the first line is to a story. Whether it is a short article or a 600 page novel, everything seems to rest on hooking the reader in that first sentence, that first thought, that should (in theory) set the tone for the rest of the piece.

But, how much does the first line really matter? And should it be suspenseful or sexy, long or short, shocking or descriptive?

The following are first lines from some new works, old-favourite, and obscure stories. Would that single sentence entice you to read more? Or would you just pass it by? Scroll to the bottom to see the list of books that each line is from. You might be surprised! 

1. "He sat before the mirror of the second-floor bedroom sketching his lean cheeks with their high bone ridges, the flat broad forehead, and ears too far back on the head, the dark hair curling forward in thatches, the amber-colored eyes wide-set but heavy-lidded." 

2. "Off the coast of Kamchatka, Siberia, bundled up and standing on the deck of a German ship, I gripped the railing with oil-stained gloves to avoid being pitched into a heaving ocean the color of a wet gravestone."

3. "The boy's name was Santiago."

4. "Straddling the top of the world, one foot in China and the other in Nepal, I cleared the ice from my oxygen mask, hunched a shoulder against the wind, and stared absently down at the vastness of Tibet."

5. "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow."

6. "As the man dressed head to toe in khaki turned the corner and began race walking uphill in my direction, I had to wonder: had we met before?"

7. "Renowned curator Jacques Sauniere staggered through the vaulted archway of the museum's Grand Gallery."

8. "OH SHIT!"

9. "Catherine Tekakwitha who are you?"

10. "The clock read midnight when the hundred-foot wave hit the ship, rising from the North Atlantic out of the darkness."

11. "When you are traveling in India — especially through holy sites and Ashrams — you see a lot of people wearing beads around their necks."

12. "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife."

13. "We named the houses they put us in."

14. "A few summers ago I visited two dairy farms, Huls Farm and Gardar Farm, which despite being located thousands of miles apart were sill remarkably similar in their strengths and vulnerabilities."

15. "I first noticed in several weeks ago."

1. The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone
2. The Ridiculous Race by Steve Hely & Vali Chandrasekaren
3. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
4. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
5. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
6. Turn Right at Machu Picchu by Mark Adams
7. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
8. Knocked Up by Rebecca Eckler
9. Beautiful Losers by Leonard Cohen
10. The Wave by Susan Casey
11. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
12. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
13. A House In The Sky by Amanda Lindhout & Sara Corbett
14. Collapse by Jared Diamond
15. Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy

Culture Quirk: Don't Point Your Feet In Thailand!

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

Thai people usually wear sandals or shoes that are easy to slide on and off because they remove them when going into temples, homes, and even some shops and restaurants.

In Thailand, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body (NEVER touch a Thai person on their head), and the feet are considered to be the dirtiest. 

Why does this matter to you? 

As a traveller, there are a few things you need to be conscious of so that you don't end up insulting the locals. 

First of all, traditionally, people sit, sleep, eat and entertain either on the ground or on cushions laid on the ground. As a result, Thai people make sure to remove their shoes (don't want to get the floor dirty!) before sitting in people's homes or on raised platforms in restaurants or at the beach. Shoes are removed before walking into temple buildings as a sign of respect. 

It is also very important to never point or gesture at someone with your foot. This can be taken as an insult. 

On the same token, you must never point your toes towards a Buddha statue or symbol. That means that if you are sitting down in a temple, you have to sit with both legs to one side (feet up and pointing backward) or on your knees. Don't sit with your legs crossed. 

Also keep in mind that while chilling out at a beach lounge, in your hotel lobby, or on a train to be careful about propping your feet on the chair beside you. This can be seen as a sign of disrespect, especially if you leave your shoes on. 

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China's One Child Policy Becomes A Two Child Policy

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

China has finally released it's citizens from the strict population control known as the "one child policy", declaring that it now has a "two child policy". This controversial policy has been in effect since 1978 and has resulted in illegal abortions, female infanticide, and other horrific practices to ensure that the one child was male. (Read more about why male children are valued in China and how this policy has affected the country's population here).

According to news sources, this change has come as a result of the quickly aging population that is leaving the work force, and a lack of young people to move into their vacant job positions and take care of them — a dangerous development for the country's economy. 

But, it may be too little too late. Like most modern societies, people are choosing to not have children later than life — if at all. There are fewer marriages occurring in China, and many women are choosing to focus on their career and autonomy rather than on starting a family. This societal shift may not allow for the desired population growth that the government hopes the policy change will incite. 

Either way, it marks the end of a rather disturbing 35 years in the country's history:

"...the one-child policy has been called by experts the “most spectacular demographic experiment in history” and “one of the most draconian examples of government social engineering ever seen.” Its reach has produced an astonishing record of loss. In 1983 alone, China sterilized 20.7 million women and aborted 14.4 million pregnancies. The number of abortions in the past four decades has exceed 336 million." (source)

Who Are The Yazidi People?

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

The Yazidi People have been in the news lately as one of the people that are being targeted by ISIS. But why? Who are these people? 

According to my research, the Yazidi are an ancient religious group that first emerged in Mesopotamia before eventually selling into modern day Kurdistan in 3,000 BCE. They believe that they were created separately from the rest of humanity — instead of being descended from Eve, they are descended from Adam. 

Their belief system seems to be the reason that they are being targeted now, and have been in the past. It is a mixture of ancient Iranian, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and (in its most basic form) states that God made the world and put 7 divine beings in charge of running it. The most important being was an angel who fell from grace, was forgiven, and returned back to heaven. 

The "fall from grace" part of this story is considered to be a little too similar to the story of how the Devil came to exist in other religions, and so (even though the angel is forgiven and goes back to heaven), these people are often considered to be devil worshippers. 

Because of this, and the fact that they are not considered to be "People of The Book" (following the Bible, Torah or Koran), they are not protected by Islamic Law and are in danger of being wiped out by extremist groups. 

BUT, as a culture, they seem to pose next to no threat. 

They live in segregated societies avoiding contact with outsiders, military service and formal education. They do not recruit new followers — you can only be born into this group and marry within it — and they have a small population of only between 700,000 to 800,000 people.  

They are small in number, peaceful, and not trying to convert anyone. 

It seems their only mistake is choosing to call home an area of the world where extremist groups are trying to eliminate any influences that they believe are a threat to their own beliefs. 

The 100 Best Novels Written In English

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,


This week, The Guardian (a British newspaper), released a list of the 100 Best Novels Written in English by Robert McCrum — an editor, author, and regular contributor to the newspaper since 1990. Here is the list he has put together in order by the year the book was published:

  1. The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678)
  2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719)
  3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726)
  4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748)
  5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
  6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759)
  7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816) 
  8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818)
  9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818)
  10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838)
  11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845)
  12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847)
  14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848)15. 
  15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850)
  16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850)
  17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
  18. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868)
  20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9)
  21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2)
  22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875)
  23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5)
  24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
  25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889)
  26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890)
  27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891)
  28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891)
  29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895)
  30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895)
  31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
  33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900)
  34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901)
  35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
  36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904)
  37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904)
  38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908)
  39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910)
  40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911)
  41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915)
  42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)
  43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915)
  44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915)
  45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
  46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922)
  47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922)
  48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924)
  49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925)
  50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)
  51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
  52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926)
  53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926)
  54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929)
  55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
  56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932)
  57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932)
  58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932)
  59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
  60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)
  61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938)
  62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
  63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939)
  64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939)
  65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939)
  66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946)
  67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946)
  68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)
  69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948)
  70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949)
  71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951) 
  72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951)
  73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953)
  74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
  75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955)
  76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957)
  77. Voss by Patrick White (1957) 
  78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
  79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960)
  80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
  81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
  82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962)
  83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)
  84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)
  85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966)
  86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969)
  87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971)
  88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971)
  89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
  90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979)
  91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981)
  92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981)
  93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984)
  94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986)
  95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988)
  96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988)
  97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
  98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997)
  99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999)
  100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000)

I was surprised at this list, mostly because not only have I not read most of these books, but I haven't even heard of a lot of them! Click here for full descriptions of each book at the reason why it was chosen for the list.  

Soccer or Football — Which is it?

by Lindsay Shapka in ,

Whenever an event like the FIFA Women's World Cup or the Summer Olympics comes around, the inevitable debate begins — soccer or football? Both names are used to represent the same sport all over the world, but as soon as you get to North America, you have to call it soccer, or distinguish between American Football and European Football so people don't get confused. 

But it is confusing. First of all, what we in North America know as football actually involves very little kicking. In fact, the foot is almost not used at all. What the Europeans call football, we call soccer. But what does the word "soccer" really mean? Where did that word come from? And is there really a right and wrong name for the sport?

Here's what I've discovered:

Football was a name that was used for games in medieval Europe that (you guessed it) involved kicking a ball. Over the years, as the random games evolved into organized sport, the word became the name for the game that we now know today. 

So that gives you a little history on the word "football", but here's the interesting part: 

A lot of people think that the word "soccer" is an American creation, but it is actually British! It comes from the game's official name: association football. In the 19th century when association football was becoming popular, so to was rugby or rugby football, which was it's official name. Both sports were commonly known as "football" and this was getting confusing. So, in order to distinguish between the two, rugby football became "rugger" and association football became "soccer". 

European's actually referred to "football" as "soccer" for a really long time. But, then came the transport of games to the New World. Americans started to call "football" soccer right away, as it helped distinguish the sport from American Football, which was invented in 1869.

The Brits, wanting to distinguish themselves from the Americans, stopped using the word soccer altogether and started referring to it as football again. 

And there you have it! Soccer by any other name is still football... or something like that... 

Reads For The Road: "The Swerve — How The World Became Modern" by Stephen Greenblatt

by Lindsay Shapka in , ,

While this is definitely not a read-before-bed book (it's fascinating, but the content requires a more alert mind), The Swerve is well worth the read. And that's not just my opinion — it is a National Book Winner, and won the Pulitzer Prize! 

Of course, all Poggio could hope to find were pieces of parchment, and not even ancient ones. But for him these were not manuscripts but human voices.
— from page 180 of "The Swerve" when Poggio is searching for a lost manuscript

Author Stephen Greenblatt takes us on a journey through antiquity to the moment that he believes is what caused a shift — though an imperceptible one at the time — in the world that helped usher in the modern age.

According to Greenblatt, the shift came in the winter of 1417 when former papal secretary Poggio Bracciolini discovered a manuscript buried in a monastic library called The Nature of Things. Written as an epic poem, it seems unlikely, at first, that this document by Lucretius could cause so much change in the world, but Greenblatt makes some very convincing arguments. 

The poem actually contained some incredibly revolutionary ideas for the time (remember, it reemerged in an era that was ruled by the Catholic Church and its Inquisition), and the way it was rediscovered and shared with the world is a pretty incredible story!