I am reading, reading, reading. Finished a book last night and, with no had-to-reads awaiting, I chose four, thick paperbacks (all given to me by friends) from my to-be-read stack. Two I discarded easily based on subject matter–generally not interested in novels about ghosts. One of the paperbacks, by a former winner of the Whitbread Prize, I read for 6 pages but then tossed aside. The fourth, I wasn’t sure about but gave 39 pages before I dropped it into the give-away pile.

I returned to my stack and chose a book I had borrowed from a friend an embarrassingly long time ago–The Bradshaw Variations by Rachel Cusk.

I read the first paragraph and thought, now you’re talking.

What is art? Thomas Bradshaw asks himself this question frequently. He does not yet know the answer. He used to believe art was a kind of pretending, but he doesn’t think that any more. He uses the word authenticity to describe what he thinks now. Some things are artificial and some are authentic. It is easy to tell when something is artificial. The other is harder.

I settled back and relaxed into the book. I knew right from the start that I would stay with this one. The first year of this blog, I read all of Rachel Cusk’s books in order–well, I read the most recent one first. Loved it. Then started from the beginning, rereading the most recent one when I got to it.

But it wasn’t just because I had enjoyed books by this author before that I felt safe. In fact, when, about six weeks ago, I was also deciding what book to read, I was choosing between two books, each one by a favorite author. The first one I chose, I only made it about 3 pages. Is it me? I wondered. So I turned to the other one–Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder. From the first sentence, I was a goner.

The news of Anders Eckman’s death came by way of Aerogram, a piece of bright blue airmail paper that served as both the stationery and, when folded over and sealed along the edges, the envelope.

Two very different openings. One begins with a huge question but in the next sentence dives inside the head of the character. Close in. And the other begins with a matter-of-fact sentence, focusing on a concrete object rather than an esoteric question. It’s difficult to put my finger on just what does the trick in each case.

Any ideas?