Here are three of my favourite first paragraphs from various non-fiction books. Each of these summarizes the author’s theme, personality and style in very few words. Which are your favourites?

A dancer who describes himself as a singer will do neither well.

To insist on describing ourselves as something we are not is to embrace existential illiteracy. We are not a civilization of British or French or European inspiration. We never have been. Our society is not an expression of peace, order and good government. It never was.

from A Fair Country by John Ralston Saul, 2008

Canadian nature writer Ernest Thompson Seton had an odd bill presented to him on his twenty-first birthday. It was a record kept by his father of all the expenses connected with young Ernest’s childhood and youth, including the fee charged by the doctor for delivering him. Even more oddly, Ernest is said to have paid it. I used to think that Mr. Seton Senior was a jerk, but now I’m wondering, What if he was—in principle—right? Are we in debt to anyone or anything for the bare fact of our existence? If so, what do we owe, and to whom or to what? And how should we pay?

from Payback by Margaret Atwood, 2008


Home was a yellow bungalow with chokecherry trees and rhubarb bushes, and a round hole in the fence where a pair of wrens, every year, would try and fail to raise a brood under the interested gaze of our cats. Home was a hundred yards from the South Saskatchewan River: late at night I would turn and listen to the drifting gulls or the wail of an ambulance as it hurtled victims down the riverside road to the hospital nearby.

from Beyond Forget by Mark Abley, 1986


Tracey Arial

Unapologetically Canadian Tracey Arial promotes creative entrepreneurship as an author, cooperative business leader, gardener, family historian and podcaster.

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