“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.” Thus opens Gabriel García Márquez’s classic work of literature, One Hundred Years of Solitude. It’s the most memorable first sentence of any book I’ve ever read.
Thanks to my friend Don Gatley, I finally started reading one of the classic books about buildings: How Buildings Learn by Stewart Brand. As you know if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, I’m a late bloomer and came to love and work on buildings only in the early part of this millennium, so I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
Brand’s book is fantastic. Martin Holladay wrote a little about it recently in his Green Building Advisor article, Low-Road Buildings Are Homeowner-Friendly. Once I finish the book, I’ll write more about it, too, because it’s one of those works that gives you a whole new perspective on how we think about something that’s such an important, yet often overlooked, part of our lives.
In addition to the content, Brand’s writing is noteworthy. His words are well chosen, his sentences sharp. One paragraph sweeps you along to the next. The result is a presentation of his profound yet radically simple ideas in a beautiful package.
And he opens the book with a first sentence that rivals some of the best first sentences in literature. As Márquez did with the sentence above, Brand paints an unforgettable picture in your mind that forces you to keep going.
So what is this first sentence that so impressed me?
“Year after year, the cultural elite of San Francisco is treated to the sight of its pre-eminent ladies, resplendently gowned, lined up in public waiting to pee.”
Who knew a book about buildings could be so good?
Photo credit: Firing squad photo is in the public domain and downloaded from Wikimedia Commons.