Thanks for a fun question. I'm glad that I was able to guess which
book you were had in mind! "A Tale of Two Cities" has long been one of
my favorites. I first read it when I was eight years old (at which
point some of its impact escaped me) and have reread it at least a
dozen times over the last half-century.
Here are ten of my own personal favorite opening passages...
from "The Haunting of Hill House," by Shirley Jackson:
"No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under
conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed,
by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its
hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and
might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks
met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence
lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever
walked there, walked alone."
from "The Lathe of Heaven," by Ursula K. Le Guin:
"Current-borne, wave-flung, tugged hugely by the whole might of ocean,
the jellyfish drifts in the tidal abyss. The light shines through it,
and the dark enters it. Borne, flung, tugged from anywhere to
anywhere, for in the deep sea there is no compass but nearer and
farther, higher and lower, the jellyfish bangs and sways; pulses move
slight and quick within it, as the vast diurnal pulses beat in the
moondriven sea. Hanging, swaying, pulsing, the most vulnerable and
insubstantial creature, it has for its defense the violence and.power
of the whole ocean, to which it has entrusted its being, its going,
and its will."
from "1984," by George Orwell:
"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen."
from "Winnie-the-Pooh," by A.A. Milne:
"Here is Edward Bear coming downstairs now, bump, bump, bump, on the
back of his head, behind Christopher Robin. It is, as far as he knows,
the only way of coming downstairs, but sometimes he feels that there
really is another way, if only he could stop bumping for a moment and
think of it. And then he feels that perhaps there isn't. Anyhow, here
he is at the bottom, and ready to be introduced to you.
from "The Hotel New Hampshire," by John Irving:
"The summer my father bought the bear, none of us was born - we
weren?t even conceived: not Frank, the oldest; not Franny, the
loudest; not me, the next; and not the youngest of us, Lilly and Egg.
My father and mother were hometown kids who knew each other all their
lives, but their 'union,' as Frank always called it, hadn?t taken
place when Father bought the bear."
from "The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy," by Laurence Sterne:
"I wish either my father or my mother, or indeed both of them, as they
were in duty both equally bound to it, had minded what they were about
when they begot me; had they duly consider?d how much depended upon
what they were then doing;?that not only the production of a rational
Being was concern?d in it, but that possibly the happy formation and
temperature of his body, perhaps his genius and the very cast of his
mind;?and, for aught they knew to the contrary, even the fortunes of
his whole house might take their turn from the humours and
dispositions which were then uppermost:?Had they duly weighed and
considered all this, and proceeded accordingly,?I am verily persuaded
I should have made a quite different figure in the world, from that,
in which the reader is likely to see me."
from "David Copperfield," by Charles Dickens:
"Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether
that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show. To
begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born
(as I have been informed and believe) on a Friday, at twelve o'clock
at night. It was remarked that the clock began to strike, and I began
to cry, simultaneously."
from "Scaramouche," by Rafael Sabatini:
"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad."
from "Adam and Eve and Pinch Me," by Ruth Rendell:
"Minty knew it was a ghost sitting in the chair because she was
frightened. If it were only something she'd imagined, she wouldn't
have been afraid. You couldn't be when it was something that came out
of your own mind."
from Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency," by Douglas Adams:
"This time there would be no witnesses. This time there was just the
dead earth, a rumble of thunder, and the onset of that interminable
light drizzle from the northeast by which so many of the world's
momentous events seem to be accompanied."
Thanks for the opportunity to take a mental meander through some
literary landscapes. I'll close with an anecdote that I've always
found amusing. An instructor is coaching his class on the fundamentals
of writing a good story. He asks the students to include hot topics
such as religion, aristocracy, sex, and mystery. One student submits
"Good God!", said the Duchess, "I'm pregnant! I wonder who done it?"