What line could represent your favorite novel?

Electric Literature produces videos for some of the fiction that appears in the magazine. A handful are trailers of one kind or another, but most are “single-sentence animations” consisting of brief clips inspired by a contributor’s favorite sentence from his or her own story.

The one above — my favorite so far — centers on a line from Michael Cunningham’s novel-in-progress: “Peter tried to murder his brother only once…”

Watching them got me thinking about my own favorite lines from novels; in general they tend to be more representative of theme than of plot. I can recite whole paragraphs from The End of the Affair, but none of the sentences I could remember seemed to evoke the book as a whole in a concrete way. Still, there’s that great bit in Beloved about the ghost as the embodiment of “sin moving in on the house, unleashed and sassy.” And, from a Padgett Powell story: “There was no such thing as falling-down insurance, an actuarial nicety that flabbergasted and enraged Mrs. Schuping.”

Never one to pass up an opportunity to fritter away time I’d planned to spend writing, I started pulling books off the shelf, trying to decide what I’d choose for Moby-Dick, The Sea, The Sea, Crime and Punishment, Giovanni’s Room, Frankenstein, The Power and the Glory, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, or Chromos

What sentences would you choose for your own favorites, and how would you illustrate them? If you have any ideas — or are skeptical of the whole enterprise — I’ve decided to open up comments on this post for a couple days.


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