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First chapters, like firsts impressions, matter.

You enter a bookstore like you do a party: you go around, get the lay of the land, then drift towards what’s interesting (yes, the buffet table, but after that, actual people, right?).

You walk around, skipping bland book covers, making small talk with back cover blurbs, and finally grab one off the shelf and settle into a conversation. Your radar is detecting any sign of chemistry.

You browse a book, but really you’re asking: are you taking me on an exciting road trip, are you promising an unforgettable experience, or a torturous uphill climb, and are we the perfect travelling companions?

So here are my first chapter impressions:

1. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. Wasn’t at all interested in the novelized story of Hemingway‘s first marriage, and was biased against it before I even opened it; thought I’d give it 5 seconds. But the way it unfolded was so natural, so unencumbered, that I got to the end of the first chapter before I was ready to stop. Till now I can’t pinpoint what exactly made it beautiful, but it was.

2. The Secret Lives of Dresses by Erin McKean. One of my favorite TED speakers has a novel! I was so excited to discover it, and so disappointed at the first chapter that I wish I hadn’t. First of all, there is no excuse for bad typesetting. And it reads awkwardly.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue. Intriguing. Told from the perspective of a 5-year-old who’s lived his entire life (imprisoned?) in a room with his mom. Couldn’t stop reading at the bookstore.

4. Little Bee by Chris Cleave. Felt like something Oprah would recommend. I demurred.

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