One of my favourite opening lines is from Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen.
"I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other."
I like it because it's intriguing and raises questions: Who's speaking? We can see someone with attitude, determined, not letting old age ailments such as lack of memory bother him / her. It has got a distinctive voice and hints at strong character.
I don't know if it lives up to its promise, because I've not read the novel. Apparently the author penned down the first draft during a NaNoWriMo.
'Water for Elephants' is one of my all time favourite novels. Epic, circus, fair ground, great characters, tragic and hilarious, love story, coming of age, friendship, a story which actually happens (don't get me started on novels with a whole chapter devoted to a character alighting from a train, not my thang), oh and the elephant.
That's a very good point. I often get annoyed with opening paras and opening chapters, where I need to go back and reread to get the gist of it. Simple and sure start is best with loads of meaning. It's amazing how we can write deep ideas with simple words.
The 4 pillars of good writing: Simplicity, Clarity, Brevity and Humanity. That's my list. I like it, it woks for me not only for beginings but for the whole novel too.
I've always admired the way he could describe a place or person in one, clever sentence. He also had the knack of covering boring but necessary links between scenes in a similarly neat way. A real master of his craft!