The First Sentence of Your Book
Many academics write books. A slightly greater number talk about writing books. I’m in the latter category. The idea of sitting down and developing an idea over 300 pages is daunting. But it’s the first sentence that really terrifies me. In an article, the first sentence carries some weight: it has to pull a reader along for the next 25,000 words. But that’s a minor commitment compared to the work that same sentence does in a scholarly book. Think of it: you are about to sit down to read several hundred thousand words about law. The first few better be damn good.
Or not. To get over my book-block, I’m mulling over the idea of writing a first sentence that is so dreadful that readers will have no choice but to continue reading, if only to dull the immediate pain. Inspired by the Bulwer-Lytton Awards, I’ve come up with a few ideas. For a book about dockets:
To write about law empirically is to venture forth into a dark and murky sea, filled with tossing icebergs above – opinions – and terribly misled krakens below – deterministic political scientists – and the only light to see by is shed by the streetlamp at the prow of your boat, imperfectly illuminating the gold key of data, and echolocation produced by the sounds of students misled by socratic education and Arthur Miller’s high pitched “hmm??!”: that’s why you should study dockets, law’s last and best hope for direction and order.
And for a book about cultural cognition?
It was said first about Marxism that a theory that proves everything proves too much, and led to three generations of suffering and misguided economic policies enforced by two dictators and a succession of forgotten mediocrities, but that problem is not cultural cognition’s, notwithstanding the project’s ability to swallow up whole legal fields like a gaping anglerfish and then spit them back unrecognized (unless you are related to Yochai Benkler): the mere fact that cultural cognition is soon to be a first-year subject of its very own should comfort those that seek complicated answers to complicated problems, and you must read this book if you wish to learn how win over the hierarchs in your life with sweet whispered nothings disguised as scientific vouching.
You get the picture. Let this be an open thread for those who haven’t written that book yet to contribute their first sentence. The worst gets the prize.