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The Best (your favorite) Chapters in Literature?

Today I am setting us an impossible task: what’s the best chapter in literature? Since it’s way too subjective, just figure out what “best” means to you before you answer.

It’s easier to talk glibly about the best books, best series, etc. Once the entire story has been told, I tend to judge the whole, not to think about its parts. Or if I do, it’s more along the lines of “Wow, that scene was great,” or “Could you believe it when he…?” Moments in the story, scenes, set pieces that I don’t give much consideration to on their own.

But let’s try anyway. Chapters, scenes, whatever you/I want to call them.

The Whiteness of the Whale in Moby Dick

The chapter with the volcano in Blood Meridian.

The chapter with Ignatius’ political rally in A Confederacy of Dunces.

It’s not a chapter, but I love when the seven sins visit Dr. Faustus

Kilgore Trout messing up his shoes in Breakfast of Champions

Chapter 17 , The Soldier in White from Catch 22

The Chapter in The Witches when the witches are revealed. I still remember being revolted by how disgusting Dahl was able to make them, even without the pictures.

I can’t pick one: I’m putting in every single addiction scene from Infinite Jest.

Winston’s first weeks in the Ministry of Love from 1984

The most photographed barn from Don Delillo’s White Noise

The chapter-length intro to Chris Bohjalian’s Night Strangers is superb

Larry navigating the corpse-clogged tunnel in The Stand

The Boss putting on his armor for the first time in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

The big reveal chapter in Foucault’s Pendulum

Andrew Solomon on his mother’s death in The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression

I still love the  cour des miracles chapter from Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The battle with Fenris the Feared in the Joe Abercrombie First Law trilogy

The Red Wedding from George RR Martin’s third book in the Ice and Fire books

The incredibly arrogant professor’s snooty introduction in The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The entire Mormon scene in Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet

I’m going to turn this over to you or I’m never going to stop.

Add whatever you like and give your reasons if possible.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Spencer May 9, 2012, 1:22 pm

    The library scene in McEwan’s -Atonement-.

    “The horror, the horror” in Conrad’s -Heart of Darkness-.

    The rabbit-fur-lined sleeping bag scenes in Hemingway’s -For Whom the Bell Tolls-.

    The in-hospital first reveal of the tattoos in -The Gargoyle-.

    Many of the excruciatingly detailed voyeuristic scenes in the earlier parts of Nabokov’s -Lolita-.

    (that’s all I’ve got off the top of my head).

    Oh, and of course, as always, the “a man is not a piece of fruit” monologue from Death of a Salesman.

  • Blaine Moore May 9, 2012, 2:20 pm

    Riddles in the Dark from The Hobbit.

    I was tempted to go with when Bilbo and Smaug have a nice little conversation, as that’s one of my favorite scenes, but for a chapter I’ve got to go with Riddles in the Dark. Suspense, humor, some intelligent discourse on the riddles (until Bilbo cheats at any rate.) I always enjoyed that chapter.

    I’m currently reading the Hobbit to my baby (who is still in my wife’s womb and thence doesn’t understand enough language to be scared yet) so that she’ll get used to my voice. I can’t wait to get to that chapter so I can do my Gollum impression. (We’re only up to Roast Mutton so far…only reading a few pages per day.)

  • Casey B May 9, 2012, 5:55 pm

    I think authors often save the best for last especially in anything remotely thriller/pot boilerish

    -The Climax of “Carter Beats the Devil” was so exciting i was sweating
    -The discovery of the other man sleeping with Humbert’s first wife early on in “Lolita” is very funny
    -Gandolf Against the Balrag in the “Fellowship of the Ring”
    -All the duels in “Dune”
    -Defeating the Giant’s Drink in “Ender’s Game”
    -Introduction of Eddie Dean in “The Drawing of the Three”
    -Aristophenes in “The Symposium”
    -Once more to the breach in “Henry V”
    -The UPS ticket in “The Man Who Sold the Moon”

  • Casey B May 9, 2012, 5:58 pm

    And my favorite part in Breakfast of Champions is Fairy Land

  • Noch Noch | be me. be natural. May 10, 2012, 3:22 am

    Stephen King on writing his first book, in “On Writing”

  • Kelvin May 10, 2012, 8:10 pm

    Definitely the first chapter of Brave New World, reading about all the different castes and how Huxley described them so matter-of-factly was so chilling.

    Also, so many of R.A. Salvatore’s moments when Drizzt leaves Menzoberanzan, buuuuuut I’m guessing I might be alone in that.

  • Jeroen May 11, 2012, 5:02 am

    From Infinite Jest, the (long) scene where Gately is shot and in the hospital, and is trying not to take painkillers.

  • Gargi May 18, 2012, 7:47 am

    The court room scene from To Kill a Mockingbird, particularly the cross-examination.

  • Scott May 19, 2012, 1:30 pm

    How about the chapter where Tom Joad is speaking to his mother about where ever a guy is getting beat up by a cop, he will be there? That’s my favorite.