I have a confession to make, and I need to know if anyone else is the same way or if I’m just strange. For the most part, I can tell by the end of the first chapter – sometimes by the end of the first page – whether I will like a book or not.
That’s weird, isn’t it? I can just feel authors everywhere cringing at the idea. Because we all know of books that were slow in the beginning and picked up or made a bad impression at the start that was really just a screen that turned into something magical and deliberate at the end. I know bloggers who absolutely refuse to quit a book any sooner than 100 pages in, if they quit at all. They – these enviable optimists – believe that there’s always a chance for redemption by the end, that somehow an author will pull out a miraculous trick to turn everything around. And that’s fine.
But for me, there’s something magical about first chapters. I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately as my to-read pile has grown and the number of first chapters I’ve read multiplies. Everyone has heard first impressions are important, and none so frequently, I think, as writers attempting to craft a story. The first chapter – really, the first page – is where the wow needs to happen. When I talk about “wow,” I don’t mean just flash and pizazz. I’ve read books that started out in the middle of a hairpin turn and kept a breathless, giddy pace from start to finish. And yet these same books were just so-so for me. I don’t mean books with a great hook in the first sentence either, because those can fizzle out quickly.
Last year, I had a string of bad reads. Some were DNFs, and some just made me mad. I picked up another book on my way to bed and began to read, fully expecting… Well, I don’t know what I expected. But I was only a few sentences in and I knew. I knew I was floating in a magical first chapter.
When I read a magical first chapter, I can literally feel my body relax. It’s some incalculable mix of prose, writing style, hook, and an indefinable “it” factor. When I find a good book, reading the first chapter feels like settling into the comfiest spot on my bed after a long day. I feel my insides relaxing and unclenching. That pent-up pit deep inside exhales and I sink down slowly, like a swimmer into deeper water. I’m immersed in the world, in the words. Every rock of cadence, every sentence, every cushiony adverb and sanded noun was crafted just for me.
The lack of this magic doesn’t mean the book will be bad, nor does the sensation automatically mean I’ll adore every aspect of the book. But time and again I’ve felt myself snapping into place like a puzzle piece that’s found its mate, felt my body relaxing, my mind stretching out over the pillow of words like a cat in the sun. I feel at ease. I feel welcome. And I know that this is a book, an author, to whom I’ll come back again and again.
Now it’s your turn. Tell me, am I crazy for thinking I can connect with books this quickly? Have you ever read a book and felt the magic, that sense of utter relaxation and perfection?