Why Do First Lines of Novels Have Such Staying Power? Slate’s Culture Gabfest Weighs In.

Slate's weekly roundtable.
July 31 2013 10:28 AM

The Culture Gabfest “It Was a Dark and Stormy Gabfest” Edition

Slate's podcast about Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, racism on Big Brother, and first lines in literature.

Listen to Culture Gabfest No. 254 with Stephen Metcalf, Willa Paskin, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner with the audio player below.

And join the lively conversation on the Culturefest Facebook page here:

The sponsors of this week’s show are MailChimp.com and 23andme.com. Use MailChimp to design and send email marketing campaigns today. Go to 23andme.com/Slate for your $99 personal genetic profile.


Culturefest is on the radio! “Gabfest Radio” combines Slate’s Culture and Political Gabfests in one show—listen on Saturdays at 7 a.m. and Sundays at 6 p.m. on WNYC’s AM820.

On this week’s episode, our critics discuss Woody Allen’s new film Blue Jasmine, which stars Cate Blanchett. The film has earned Woody Allen the most successful box office opening weekend of his career. But does it live up to the hype? And is Woody Allen getting graded on a curve? Next, Slate TV critic Willa Paskin joins the crew to discuss overt racism on the popular CBS reality show Big Brother. What’s going on in that big house, and why does it matter? Finally, Stephen King recently gave an interview in the Atlantic and spoke about the importance of novels having magnetic first lines. The gabbers discuss what makes a good first line, their personal favorites, and the general phenomenon of canonizing the opening sentence.

Here are links to some of the things we discussed this week:


Dana: I Remember, by Joe Brainard.

Julia: We The Animals, by Justin Torres and On Writing, by Stephen King.

Stephen: Soft Bulletin by The Flaming Lips and Lavinia Greenlaw’s essay in the London Review of Books on Tracey Thorn.

Outro: “Waiting for Superman” by The Flaming Lips.

You can email us at culturefest@slate.com.

This podcast was produced by Mike Vuolo. Our intern is Sam McDougle.

Follow us on Twitter. And please Like the Culture Gabfest on Facebook

Stephen Metcalf is Slate's critic at large. He is working on a book about the 1980s.

Dana Stevens is Slate's movie critic.

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.



Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.