Tonight I began reading Les Miserable by Victor Hugo. I am surprised by how quickly I got beyond page 40. Of course the book itself is 1460 pages so I'm really just over 2% of the way through the book. I am almost to the part where the musical begins. We have not even met the main character yet.
I think one challenge many modern authors have is starting a book right when the story itself begins. We no longer need a first page that pulls us in. We need a first sentence, first phrase, first word, first syllable that is so interesting that it grabs the reader and never lets go. While this can be a challenge in upon itself I think what complicates the situation is that most writers have read books like Les Miserable where the author can spend 50 pages setting up the story.
While this style works perfectly for books written centuries ago, most modern readers (and agents) will not give books by unknown authors this kind of patience. Therefore, an author might be influenced by a classic but end up shooting themselves in the foot if they copy the style by having a long introduction. There were many agents at the workshops I have attended who complained about having to read 50 pages before they reached what should have been the first chapter. Reading classics is vital but we need to be aware of what styles are actually being published today.