National Geography Awareness Week and GIS

By Amanda Green
on November 17, 2017

National Geography Awareness Week and GIS

If you've been following our social media you know it's National Geography Awareness Week. Established over 25 years ago by President Reagan, this week is dedicated to inspiring citizens to learn more about geography.  National Geographic has a great feature program full of maps, lesson plans and more. 

One thing I learned more about during Geography Awareness is GIS or Geographic Information Systems. I knew that it was a type of data analysis, but I didn't understand its remarkable history or depth of modern application. First used by Dr. John Snow in 1854 as a life-saving advance in understanding the transmission of cholera, today it is widely available both commercially and as open source software. 

Bokonon Book's John Fisher did an analysis of our book sales using GIS. He took sales data from October 2016-February 2017 and came up with some interesting maps representing our sales by state. Please note this was a just-for-fun project and as John states in his conclusion:

     This study has some vagaries and uncontrolled variables that prevent me from making louder, stronger claims about how these data are connected to sub-cultural trends. For example, since we sell online you have to have internet access to buy a book from us. An area with unusually good public libraries or greater use of them might not be as inclined to buy books at all. Also, places where individuals share their books directly with one another might also buy fewer online.

     That said, it seems like the northerly coastal states read the most after controlling for population and GSP. Maine, Washington, Massachusetts, and Oregon all order more books than predicted. At the other end of the spectrum, West Virginia, the Dakotas, and Mississippi all come up short. 

To see all of the maps check out our social media today. Follow us on facebook, twitter and instagram!

On Paul Bowles, 1910-1999

By John Fisher
on November 03, 2017

On Paul Bowles, 1910-1999

Paul Bowles (1910 - 1999)

     It is a shame that the author of one of the best and strangest novels of the twentieth century is known, if at all, as a footnote on the Wikipedia pages of William Burroughs (who moved to Morocco because of Bowles) and John Malkovich (who starred in the ill-conceived/-fated Bertolucci adaptation of Bowles’ masterpiece The Sheltering Sky). Bowles was a talented composer, an inimitable writer, and the WASPiest guy I consider a badass. Putting his WASPyness to good use, he once helped Peggy Guggenheim spite the antisemitic New England aristocracy by posing in an interview as the real buyer so that she could purchase property on what she called the “Non-Jewish Lake.”

     For a full catalogue of his famous friends and fantastic exploits, you’ll have to read the biographies. But here’s a smattering of the sort of thing you can expect to find. 

     Bowles was a close friend of Aaron Copland, Tennessee Williams, and Gertrude Stein. Stein had him exercise her standard poodle Basket by running around the courtyard in lederhosen so the dog would chase him. 

     He wrote the music for Williams’ The Glass Menagerie. He came up with the now iconic title for the English translation of Sartre’s Huis Clos (which does not mean “No Exit” in French). He even made an extensive and painstaking collection of traditional Moroccan music by hauling a gas generator and recording equipment through rural Morocco in the final moment before many of the local styles were drowned by westernization and kitsch. That said, avoid his poetry. Stein was absolutely spot on when she told him he simply wasn’t a poet.

     He briefly attended the University of Virginia, like Poe, though Bowles’ vices were less decadent. A very light drinker, his grades suffered because he liked to skip class to wander nearby hills and forests. But before you get the idea that he was like Robert Frost strolling the fecund orchards by moonlight, here’s his own account of his decision to drop out of UVA - “I returned to my room one afternoon at dusk and upon opening the door knew at once that I was about to do something explosive and irrevocable…. I shut the door and gave a running leap onto the bed, where I stood, my heart pounding. I took out a quarter and tossed it spinning into the air. ‘Heads!’ I cried out with relief. Tails would have meant that I had to down a bottle of Allonal and leave no note. Heads meant that I would leave for Europe as soon as possible,” (Without Stopping p. 79). Note that remaining a student wasn’t even an option.

     His first and best novel, The Sheltering Sky, was written on contract with Doubleday who rejected the manuscript because it ‘wasn’t a novel’ only to regret that decision when Viking rode it up the 1949 bestseller lists. After The Sheltering Sky I would recommend The Delicate Prey (his first short story collection) then his second novel Let It Come Down (ten points to anyone who can place the title’s reference). 

     The Sheltering Sky follows the American couple Port and Kit Moresby as madness and malady drive them deep into the Sahara. Fun fact: Port Moresby is also the capital of Papua New Guinea. David Wallace attempted a phenomenological description of death in “Good Old Neon,” but Bowles’ attempt at the same in The Sheltering Sky makes Wallace’s look about as rich and compelling as a Hallmark card. 

     The Delicate Prey condenses into short stories much of what made The Sheltering Sky so powerful - death, drugs, whimsy, and depravity told with the unforgiving observational acumen of a psychoanalyst and the cynical candor of an apostate priest. 

     Let It Come Down, his second novel, is a more focused investigation of loneliness and identity than that of The Sheltering Sky. Nelson Dyar, a straight-laced American bank-teller, travels to Morocco looking for a new life. It’s your call whether he finds it or not.

     If racy Modernist fiction isn’t your cup of mint tea, then try his travelogue Their Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue, which treats the same subject and is at least as good as Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti’s Voices of Marrakesh. 

     Taking care of his wife Jane after she suffered a stroke, Bowles had trouble finding the uninterrupted time he needed for his novels and turned to translation. He was one of the first to translate Moghrebi Arabic fiction for an American audience, which he did alongside his translations from avant-garde Spanish- and French-language authors. A number of or these translations were published through Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Press - M’Hashish by Mohammed Mrabet, The Oblivion Seekers by Isabelle Eberhardt, and The Beggar’s Knife by Rodrigo Rey Rosa. 


     There are four biographies of Bowles worth mentioning - Without Stopping (Bowles’ autobiography), Paul Bowles: A Life by Virginia Spencer Carr, You Are Not I by Millicent Dillon, and An Invisible Spectator by Christopher Sawyer-Laucanno.

     Without Stopping was the very first work by Bowles I read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. An aspiring composer travels the world in the company of his artist friends, bucking conventual morality, becoming a novelist, and securing his own share of success as an expat in Tangier. One adventure involves him buying an island (1) off the coast of India with help from Peggy Guggenheim. Another has him driving across Morocco in a new Jaguar convertible with the backseats full of cannabis. Sadly though, William Burroughs was right to joke that the title should have been Without Telling. Anyone who has read the meatier biographies will see just how much of the interpersonal dramas Bowles passes over in silence (especially those involving his sexual relations with other men). It was common knowledge in the art circles of the era that even though Paul and Jane were married and had once had a fiery romance both came to prefer queer sexual companionship, living in separate houses for a time and seducing locals.

     Of all the biographies, An Invisible Spectator is the only one that really infuriated Bowles and the only one I would not recommend to anyone but the most devout Bowles’ fan and then only after reading the other three. Sawyer-Laucanno’s account follows the same general trajectory as the others with one notable exception. While the other biographers sympathize at some level with Bowles’ relationship with his wife Jane following her stroke and downward spiral into alcoholism, Sawyer-Laucanno sees a malicious if not outright sadistic streak. Bowles’ fiction may be full of outrageous cruelty but nothing else I’ve read (the testaments of countless friends and colleagues) backs up Sawyer-Laucanno’s characterization. I believe he either embellished the story to stir up controversy or, like so many literary biographers, couldn’t see the life except through the work. 

     Millicent Dillon’s You Are Not I, aside from having one of my all-time least favorite titles, is a readable, competent account. Unfortunately, she has nothing unique to say on the topic and a clunky prose style that did not benefit from the book’s hurried composition. Fortunately, I can highly recommend A Little Original Sin, her biography of Jane Bowles, not least for having a really wonderful title. Jane was clearly the subject Dillon wanted to cover, which she does with the care and attention and occasional grandiosity of the true acolyte. You Are Not I was her attempt to wring another book out of the same research notes. And yes, I know that You Are Not I is the title of one of Paul Bowles’ short stories. At least he had the decency to keep it off the cover. Which brings me to the last and best of the group. 

    Paul Bowles: A Life by Virginia Spencer Carr will be the definitive work on Bowles until a new generation needs to reinvent him. The most recent of the four, it draws on the research of the other three and brings both a balanced perspective and a polished style. The book is long enough to do justice to its subject but not overlong (like Ellman’s Joyce or Atlas’ Bellow, to name only one-volume examples). Carr’s writing is vivid without sensationalizing and direct in the clear confident way of hard-earned expertise. As is the case with truly excellent biographies, I remember the life itself vibrantly and the experience of reading the book almost not at all. 

     If you read only two books on this page, you should read The Sheltering Sky and Paul Bowles: A Life.

(1) - Here’s a short essay by Bowles about Taprobane, the island he briefly owned and occupied:


This is a short (2 min) clip of Bowles describing a Moroccan dance of self-mutilation he saw in a cafe during his travels.

This is a short (2 min) trailer for the documentary, Paul Bowles: The Cage Door is Always Open

     There are lots of other video clips about Bowles on YouTube that you can turn up with a quick search. If you're looking for something interesting to play in the background while you cook, you can find 30 min - 1.5 hr documentaries in English, Spanish, and French (which gives you some idea of just how international his influence has been). 

This Day in History - The Battle of Coronel

By William MacDonald
on November 01, 2017

This Day in History - The Battle of Coronel

By the summer of 1914, Britannia ruled the waves, or at least most of them. Germany, having consolidated its position in Central Europe in the latter part of the 19th century, soon sought to compete with Britain and the other major powers in the worldwide land-grab that characterized the “Age of Imperialism”, which, ironically would lead to the ultimate downfall of all involved except the opportunistic new kid on the block- the United States. The ensuing Anglo-German naval arms race was high on the list of factors that would ignite the world in flames following the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

The massive build-up of British and German battle fleets contemplated the sort of strategic struggle for control of the seas that led to the largest (albeit inconclusive) naval battle of World War I off the coast of Jutland in June of 1916. But it was the tiny clash of colonial fleets in a far-flung corner of the Pacific coast of South America where Germany would draw first blood, on this day in history, November 1, 1914, in the Battle of Coronel.  

The German East Asia Squadron under the command of Admiral Maximilian von Spee had been raiding the British shipping lanes in the South Pacific since the war began in August, 1914. In response, Britain quickly threw together a small force from their squadron in the West Indies and dispatched it around the Cape Horn, where it stumbled across the German ships off the coast of Coronel in central Chile. The defeat of the British fleet was epic in proportion. Von Spee sank two British armored cruisers with a combined loss of more than 1,500 men at the cost of 3 German sailors wounded. However, as was so often the case throughout World War I, the devastating German victory was short-lived. Von Spee’s squadron, having expended most of its irreplaceable ammunition supply in the the victory, was met and completely destroyed by a second, larger British force at the Battle of the Falkland Islands just five weeks later, on December 8, 1914, thereby eliminating any significant German presence in the Pacific for the rest of the war.

There is a dearth of literature specific to this obscure little battle; the Brits, keepers of the worldwide military history flame, are loath to dwell on their staggering defeats and their American counterparts seldom show any interest in events in which they have no part. As such, the Battle of Coronel has typically been relegated to broad surveys of World War I naval history, of which there are many good titles to choose. One I highly recommend from our collection is The Great War at Sea: A Naval Atlas 1914-1919 by Marcus Faulkner (ISBN: 978-1-84832-183-0). Comprehensive in scope, it has over 125 maps dealing with all the major battles as well as smaller operations, convoys, skirmishes and other events impacting the war around the globe.

Paul Goodman (1911 - 1972)- Gay Jewish Jeffersonian Anarchist

By John Fisher
on October 27, 2017

Paul Goodman (1911 - 1972)- Gay Jewish Jeffersonian Anarchist

     Where would you anthologize the work of a jewish poet and novelist with a literature PhD who was married with children and openly and unabashedly queer in the 1940s and who went on to co-found Gestalt Therapy and practice as a psychotherapist until he wrote one of the most influential works of social criticism for the Student Left of the 1960s (which skips over his books on philosophical aesthetics, education reform, and city planning)? Was he an artist, an academic, a therapist, or a political pamphleteer? It’s easy to imagine someone wearing two of those hats, but all four feels excessive, dilettantish, a criticism that would haunt Goodman throughout his career.

Read more »

Bokonon Books 2.0

By Amanda Green
on October 16, 2017

Bokonon Books 2.0

Great news, everyone! Bokonon Books is excited to announce our social media presence expansion. What does this mean for you? It means that you can check us out on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for exclusive sales and promotions as well as memes that will resonate with book lovers and history buffs alike. 

On your way to getting lost in a good book please check out our blog posts and social media feed at the bottom! It's a great way to get to know us better and to stay in touch so we can get to know you too. Let us know what you're reading or the name of a book title that you think should be on everyone's reading list. 

We can't wait to hear from you.

Bokonon Books

Grand Opening

By William MacDonald
on May 09, 2016

Willkommen! Bienvenue! Welcome!

After a six-year odyssey of schlepping around on other people’s websites, we are very pleased to finally stake out a homeland of our own here on the invariably wild and oft-times wonderful World Wide Web. To say that the journey has been fraught with peril is the acme of understatement, but there’s no denying that the effort thus far has been an unqualified success and we are greatly optimistic at the opening of this new chapter in the saga of Bokonon Books.

The development of this website has been a herculean task, and continues to be an ongoing process. While we do hope to implement a wide range of additional features as quickly as possible, the decision to launch as this stage was largely motivated be the desire to get something/anything available before the Boss was well past retirement age. Consider yourself to be an unwitting volunteer in our beta test.  As such, we welcome any and all constructive comments.

Please note that the items we currently have displayed here are merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In reality, Bokonon Books has inventoried more than 15,000 books, films, and educational toys and games covering a wide range of subjects and interests, all of which should be available through a basic search. If you are unable to locate a particular item, have questions about shipping, or need any other sort of assistance, please contact any of our eager and knowledgeable staff either by e-mail or phone and we’ll take care it right away (singing telegrams and edible arrangements are also perfectly acceptable methods of getting in touch).

We are genuinely committed to these ideas of quality and service. This may seem somewhat archaic in a culture where the medium truly has become the message, bumper stickers and emoji pretend to be viable forms of self-expression, and super-corporations have constitutionally protected civil liberties, but we have been pleasantly surprised throughout the years to discover an earnest and loyal client base of book lovers, educators, and life-long learners that value these things as much as we do. We hope that you will join our happy band of brothers for many years to come.

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From the Blog

National Geography Awareness Week and GIS

National Geography Awarenes...

November 17, 2017

If you've been following our social media you know it's National Geography Awareness Week. Established over 25 years ago by...

Read more →

On Paul Bowles, 1910-1999

On Paul Bowles, 1910-1999

November 03, 2017

Paul Bowles (1910 - 1999)      It is a shame that the author of one of the best and...

Read more →