In January I will resume teaching on a limited basis, dealing first with a short course on sense of place. So, I went to my local library--love my library--and checked out a book I had stumbled across online: Michael Perry's Population, 485. Of course, I was drawn to it because it is written by a nurse who became an EMT in his tiny home town in Wisconsin. Okay, I thought, this is the sort of thing I might want to read and recommend to my students. Within the hour, settled into a comfy chair in my neighborhood coffee shop, mango tea and lemon cake at the ready, I cracked the book and fell in love! And that was before I looked at the author's picture on the back flap. Perry looks like a wool-shirt hunk, just the guy to change a tire or save a life at the flip of a siren switch. But I'm not that much of a sucker for a hunk without brains. He had to prove himself. And he did, whew!
We hear often that the opening sentence of a book is the most important. Someone famous has said that it's not the most important sentence; it's the only one. I could imagine some junior editor at Harper Collins jumping out of her chair and racing to a senior editor: "You have got to read this!" I am now imitating that discovery phrase, because anyone who can sink the verbal hook the way Perry does earns my admiration, affection, and a good bit of running around to tell people about his book. Because he wrote this first sentence: "Summer here comes on like a zaftig hippie chick, jazzed on chlorophyll and flinging fistfuls of butterflies to the sun." Just look at it--descriptive writing that tears around like a loose puppy, yipping and all forward motion.The diction tells me instantly who he is and the energy as we move from one word to the next just lights up the reader's mind. I think we should create a Michael Perry Award for the most wonderful opening line ever. Anyone got one better? And leave Ishmael out of it.