Listen to the first sentence of Cormac McCarthy's Pullitzer prize-winning The Road:
“When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.”
Wow. This is like beat poetry. I haven't got very far with this one yet, but I can tell it's going to require concentration. This is a good thing. I think too few modern writers pay attention to prosody - the music and rhythm of their writing, the way it sounds in your head and feels in your mouth when you read it.
This also got me thinking about great first lines. Moby Dick's “Call me Ishmael” comes to mind, and of course Dickens' Tale of Two Cities opener. I know I harp on Henry James, but how exquisite is this from Portrait of a Lady:
“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.”
I also like the one-word openers. Bleak House begins with “London.” Unbeatably, Beowulf begins with “So.”
And how can you go past Genesis? When you think about it, it's a spine-tingling way to begin a book:
“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”