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On the Importance of First Sentences

I’d never heard of Louis Bayard. Maybe that’s my bad—he’s penned several historical fiction thrillers that have been well reviewed, and he’s written for the New York Times and Washington Post and was on staff at Salon.com. But I’d never heard of him.

About a year ago, my mom met him at an event at St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and bought me a copy of his novel The Black Tower because she knows I love historical fiction. The story takes place in Paris after the Revolution, and I’m a crazy Les Misérables fan. Close enough, she thought. She even got it signed for me: “Lisa, Good luck with your writing. Best, Louis Bayard.” My mom is very cool.

I thanked her when she gave it to me, put it on a bookshelf, and didn’t think any more about it for the better part of a year.

Recently, when my book club decided to read a book I’d already ripped through, I felt desperate for a good novel to sink into and I looked through the books on my shelf and came across The Black Tower again. I flipped it open to the first chapter, and with one sentence I got hooked. It reads, “I’m a man of a certain age—old enough to have been every kind of fool—and I find to my surprise that the only counsel I have to pass on is this: Never let your name be found in a dead man’s trousers.”

That’s all it took. More proof, if anybody needs it, that the first sentence of any book is the most important. I’m very happy to report that Bayard follows up that sentence with so many other good sentences and descriptions (“a calico dress and a calico face, cottony with years”—ahhhh!) that each night, I can’t wait to get in bed, open the book again, and see what the mysterious Mr. Bayard has in store for me. I’m so glad I made his acquaintance.

—Lisa Chambers, Managing Editor, TV Guide Magazine

@TVGMChambers

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