Power to the diesel

Biodiesel Power: The Passion, the People, and the Politics of the Next Renewable Fuel

By Lyle Estill

New Society Publishers, Oct. 2005. 288 pp. $16.95

Alex Hobbs, an NCSU engineering professor, posed the question: “Why do we keep going to the devil to get our fuel when we can grow it right here on God’s green earth?” and Lyle Estill’s looking for answers.

Estill is the Pied Piper of Piedmont Biofuels. A metal sculptor in Chatham County, he wanted some biodiesel for his truck, discovered he couldn’t buy it in North Carolina but could make his own, and three years later he’s graduated from tinkerer to, well, he’s still tinkering. But he’s also running a co-op, creating a refinery, and threatening to become a pretty big “small producer,” which he considers the best of all worlds in an industry with clear “dis-economies of scale.”

His book isn’t a how-to, nor is it a polemic, though there’s a bit here of both. (How to? Mix methanol, lye and some kind of veggie or animal oil, and if you do it right, your diesel engine will run just fine–as well as it runs on gaso-diesel.) Rather, it’s a chronicle of how a guy with a good heart tries to live out his values in a petroleum-soaked world. –Bob Geary

Young self-love

Oedipus Wrecked

By Kevin Keck

Cleis Press, Nov. 2005. 220 pp. $14.95

Oedipus Wrecked is a shamelessly dirty collection of tales of Charlotte-based author Kevin Keck’s teenage sexual obsessions. Unfortunately, where David Sedaris and other “decadent youth” storytellers offer dynamic plots and humorous narrative, Keck prefers to bluntly state his sexual endeavors in a trite “One time at band camp…” sort of way that, much like his tales of chronic masturbation, leaves you unfulfilled and only slightly amused. A wide galaxy of household objects end up in Keck’s ass, and the stories are followed by predictable punch lines that reekof bull, which matters little to the author. Gratuitous embellishment of the truth is sadly a recent trend in nonfictional memoirs, most notably in James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces (much to the ire of Oprah).

I feel for Keck’s parents for having spawned such an emblematic Freudian case studynot only does he swipe and then defile his mother’s vibrator, he also runs over his father’s wiener dog.

If you dig dirty tell-all tall tales of wacky teenage tally-whacking, Oedipus Wrecked is a fast and funny (in a frat-chat way) read that will solve any insecurities you may have about pleasuring yourself too much. –D.L. Anderson

Lenses, the universe, everything

North Carolina Waterfalls: A Hiking and Photography Guide (2nd Ed.)

By Kevin Adams

John F. Blair, Sept. 2005. 590 pp. $19.95

If a bear charges it is most likely a bluff. Stand your ground and raise your hands slightly to give the impression that you’re bigger than you really are.” Advice on outmaneuvering alpha bears may seem a bit excessive for a catalog of waterfalls, but High Point native Kevin Adams commits himself to every conceivable aspect of waterfall exploration in this newly expanded second edition. An avid photographer and author of North Carolina’s Best Wildflower Hikes and Hiking Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Adams’ step-by-step analysis spoonfeeds the reader with ready-made nature experiences. He even outlines the perfect angles and times of day for taking photographs at each location.

Adams’ mastery is infallible, and the wealth of information he offers is immeasurable–though at times I was surprised that he failed to instruct the reader on exactly how to tie one’s hiking boots. Definitely use this guide when embarking on your own waterfall exploration; just be sure that the experience you find is your own–not Kevin Adams’. –Virginia Daniels

Osama bin misunderstood

Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden

Edited and introduced by Bruce Lawrence

Verso, Nov. 2005. 225 pp. $16.95

For such a notorious, earth-shattering figure, Osama bin Laden is poorly understood, but Bruce Lawrence, religion professor at Duke University, aims to change that. Readers of Lawrence’s annotated compendium of bin Laden’s public utterances–which date back to his Sudanese days in 1994–will begin to appreciate why the Western powers prefer to treat him as a ghoulish embodiment of evil.

In these addresses, bin Laden demonstrates a broad command of Middle Eastern history, Islamic theology and Arab rhetorical genres, and he repeatedly links his activities to verifiable American offenses against the umma, or Muslim world. Not only is it troublesome to American hawks that bin Laden’s early successes against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan came with the munificent support of the CIA, but the al-Qaeda leader’s fiery jeremiads against American imperialism and the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands are in accord with the standard leftist catechism.

Whatever fate ultimately befalls Osama bin Laden, Lawrence believes that it is time to understand him as a world historical figure with exceptional literary gifts who, like Saladin or Che Guevara, will stand as an eloquent and seductive symbol for future generations. –David Fellerath

Hail, yes!

North Carolina Weather and Climate

By Peter J. Robinson

UNC Press, Nov. 2005. 256 pp. $24.95

It would not be giving away the plot of Peter J. Robinson’s North Carolina Weather and Climate to tell you that the winds come out of the west, or that moist Gulf air, high mountains and tropical systems provide much of the action.

This 256-page paperback may seem more like a textbook at first, but it’s splendidly illustrated, and there are anecdotes and sidebars on events such as the winter 1993 “Storm of the Century,” the mountain floods of 1916, and enough tales of Hazel, Fran and Co. to keep the casual weatherist interested.

As for you weather geeks (the totally geekin’ Greg Fishel writes the intro), give this book a big “Hail yes!” You got plenty to chew on from the mountains (thermal belts, frost hollows) to the maritimes (Bermuda Highs and El Niños). Robinson, a UNC-Chapel Hill geology professor and director of the N.C. Climate Program, also uses this work to illustrate some of the latest thinking about effects brought on by humans like greenhouse gases, acid rain and tropospheric ozone. A must-have for the section marked “N.C.” on your bookshelf. –Kirk Ross