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Jake Vail

Kevin Willmott’s Top Ten

From the New Yorker to the LA Times, critics are voting a brand new movie– Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq– the best of 2015. Richard Brody calls it “a latter-day masterwork,” and it also won his vote for the best screenplay of the year. A biting social commentary based on Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, Chi-Raq is set in Chicago and was co-written by Lawrence’s own Kevin Willmott.

kevin willmott

Kevin graciously sent us a list of 10 books that influence him in all of his films. It should come as no surprise that the man’s a scholar– so much so, that LPL doesn’t own any of his selections. But you can always find them through our interlibrary loan service. Catch Kevin’s films CSA, The Only Good Indian, and Jayhawkers while you wait. Those we have. Read More..

Patterns of Discovery

October, specifically October 12th, usually finds me re-reading The Rediscovery of North America, a short work written by Barry Lopez twenty-five years ago. In it, Lopez eloquently describes the violent patterns of colonization that Cristoforo Colombo—Christopher Columbus–initiated when he landed in the Americas.

Importantly, Lopez stresses that though they continue, these incursions need not define us. Instead, he says, the true wealth that America offers comes “from one thing—the cultivation and achievement of local knowledge.” Read More..

On The Water Knife and the American West

“You know what happens to nosy fellows? Huh?” asks the original water knife in the movie Chinatown. Roman Polanski’s California thug is pretty sharply-dressed compared to the flak-jacketed New Mexico henchman and title character in Paolo Bacigalupi’s new book about water wars in the American West; thug life has changed with the times.

It’s still Big Business and government, but it’s more militarized. And in Bacigalupi’s thriller, it’s moved into gritty speculative fiction noir.

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Wild Brits? I say! Exploring the Global Wilderness

Feeling less cranky than usual, Ed Abbey, prickly prophet of the desert Southwest, once looked around and suggested this:

“Beyond the wall of the unreal city… there is another world waiting for you. It is the old true world of the deserts, the mountains, the forests, the islands, the shores, the open plains. Go there. Be there. Walk gently and quietly deep within it.”

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Six Degrees of Victor Frankenstein, or, How a Volcano Launched Science Fiction

You’ve probably heard that an Italian doctor is predicting the imminent re-attachment of severed heads to bodies. With the steady improvements in medical science and prosthetics technology, it’s not too surprising. Nor is it too surprising that there’s another Hollywood remake of Frankenstein in the works, this one told from the perspective of Igor — who didn’t even appear in Mary Shelley’s famous book. It is a little surprising that Igor will be played by the man forever to be known as a young wizard with a lightning bolt on his forehead.

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The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness

Rebecca Solnit, though not widely known, is one of the country’s finest writers of non-fiction, in all its many guises. Twenty-nine essays, articles, and letters are included in her wonderful new book, plus book prefaces and text written to accompany art exhibits. The resulting constellation of stellar pieces connects the dots, in typical Solnit fashion, from Wall Street to the arid West, tsunamis to Thoreau, gold mining to oil drilling, gardening to Google, climate change to country music, landscapes to limits, and Haiti to hope. Read More..



True story: last fall I looked out my window and saw a coyote lounging in the shade of an apple tree, contentedly eating apples off the ground—the proverbial free lunch, a literal windfall.

Two years previously, at The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival in Salina, writer Naomi Klein gave a talk called “The Message”—meaning, the message of climate change. Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine, a powerful and important book with an ominous subtitle: “The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” My notes from her talk emphasize her point that, contrary to appearances, the right wing completely understands climate change, and, especially, its effects. Read More..

To make the gods laugh, tell them your plans

Well, I had planned on continuing my new series on environmental classics with Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a favorite book by a favorite author in a favorite place. But only nine pages into a rereading of it and I got sidetracked by Kevin Fedarko, who just wrote a thoroughly enjoyable book called The Emerald Mile. As I was drawn into this compelling tale of running the Colorado River, I thought, “No problem. I’ll do a joint Abbey-Fedarko review. It’s a perfect fit.” Read More..


Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Annie Dillard showed up on Facebook one day. Not the real deal, merely a notice that it was her birthday. But that was enough to send me down memory lane, recalling how much I enjoyed reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek all those years ago. It was time to visit Tinker Creek again. Read More..


Reinventing Bach

While you may have spent the holidays listening to, or even playing or singing, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, I spent a rather enjoyable chunk of time reading about it. And, eventually, surfing YouTube to watch and listen to a few unique performances. But more on that later. Read More..