I would be in a tough spot if asked to name a single book as my favourite book of all time, but I certainly would have no qualms about naming my favourite first chapter. The first chapter of James Joyce's "The portrait of the artist as a young man" continues to make me draw a sharp breath everytime I read it.
A lot of utter gibberish is often peddled under the "stream of consciousness" tag but here's a case where someone has actually been able to successfully describe the whimsical nature of human thought. The central character Stephen Dedalus is in the middle of a school football match, and the nature of his thoughts are the focus of the entire first chapter. He thinks about his childhood, his home and his classes at his boarding school which are about to be dismissed for the holidays all at the same time flitting effortlessly between the three worlds that his mind occupies.
It speaks volumes of why Joyce is considered by many as the greatest English writer of modern times, that one single chapter. It is about those moments when through the fields of neatly arranged plans and routine actions comes rolling a fog of thoughts enveloping everything in its shadowy wake.