Friday, December 23, 2005

Hopper spreader

Who uses it: Snowplow operators
What it means: The machine at the back of a snowplow that drops and spreads sand or salt
How you can use it: It's not too late to add to your Christmas list.

The snowplow guys had to throw a second layer of sand onto my parking lot, because the first layer froze under new ice. We're in Washington, DC this morning, and there's very little snow on the ground; Dizzy is thrilled to be able to trot along sidewalks without worrying about ice.

We're picking up my brother Ed this morning, and then stopping in Mechanicsville to pick up the Christmas roast beef from Peggy -- it's their contribution to the Christmas feast, but they don't want to worry about having to bring it down on Sunday. I hope I have room for it in my car... it can't exactly ride in the back seat with Dizzy.

Yesterday was a Book on Tape day, and here's What I Read this Week:

Simon Kernick, The Business of Dying. I was impressed with Simon's second book, The Murder Exchange, when I read it last February; that was a sharp, complex novel that told parallel stories of a thug on the run and a disillusioned but dogged police detective. The Business of Dying, his first, is nothing short of astonishing. It's a simpler plot, but a uniquely complex protagonist: Dennis Milne is a veteran police detective who is also a hit man. He tells himself he's only killing the scum of the earth, but then he's set up to kill three innocent men -- and there's a witness. He ought to run, but there's one last case he needs to solve and one last killer he needs to bring to justice. Now I have to read the sequel, A Good Day to Die, which came out earlier this year.

Bernd Heinrich, Winter World. Zoologist Bernd Heinrich is a gifted artist as well as a brilliant writer; all of his talents seem to come from his remarkable ability just to see what surrounds him, when most of us pay no attention. In this book, he turns his attention to the amazing range of adaptations animals have made in order to survive winter in cold climates. He writes about frogs that freeze solid, only to thaw and revive in spring; about beetles whose blood is a form of antifreeze; about flying squirrels, who forage by night and go into a kind of suspended animation by day; and about the tiny kinglet, a ball of fluff whose resilience inspired this book. It took me the better part of a week to read this book, because it felt like hanging out with someone I didn't want to say goodbye to.

Alexander McCall Smith, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. McCall Smith's second Sunday Philosophy Club book is charming, but very slight; philosopher Isabel Dalhousie wrestles with the moral dilemmas of her own 40-something single life as she helps the recipient of a heart transplant identify his donor. As I said about the first book, if you like Isabel, you like the books, and I do -- but I don't know how long I'll stick with this series.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes. How did I get through childhood without ever reading this book? I listened to it on tape yesterday, and it was perfect company for a miserable drive -- wildly romantic, unapologetically ridiculous, rather shockingly colonial and racist by today's standards. If you don't know the story, you live under a rock: the orphan John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, grows up among the apes, teaches himself to read, and makes contact with a group of marooned humans that includes the beautiful Jane Porter and her father. Besides being a great adventure, this is also my very favorite sort of doomed love story. I'm thrilled to discover that several books in this series are available online through Project Gutenburg, so I'll keep reading.

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