The amount of printed matter that can be accessed digitally is rapidly increasing on a daily basis. I feel this is a good thing as it makes rare and important material, like this edition of Paul Bowles Next to Nothing, available to interested readers. That said, Ira Cohen’s Starstreams #5, printed in Kathmandu, Nepal in 1976, really needs to be experienced in hard copy. For example, digital imaging does not capture the textures of the various papers, such as that of the handmade rice paper. The scans also do not fully convey the element of the handmade coupled with that of the ephemeral. I can think of few publications that exude a persistent thereness while at the same time drawing attention to an extreme fragility. Like all publications made with love, Next to Nothing just wants to be held. It demands a care and attention that its digital counterpart does not.
Bowles himself recognized Next to Nothing’s special nature. Bowles considered it one of the finest realizations of his work. From Ken Lopez:
In Carr's biography of Bowles [Paul Bowles: A Life], Carr recounts that, approximately two years after Jane Bowles' death, Ira Cohen solicited a long poem in the form of a dream from Paul Bowles; that Bowles countered with “one man's dream is another man's reality” and submitted Next to Nothing; that he considered this the most extraordinary-looking book of all his writings; and that, in 1994 (the year of this inscription), when Carr was staying at Bowles's house, Bowles read a discussion of Next to Nothing in the book Paul Bowles: Romantic Savage by Gena Dagel Caponi, and he voiced agreement with Caponi's assessment that: “Next to Nothing turns out to be the most eloquent and final expression of ideas that had obsessed Bowles for years...For a reader familiar with his life story, it holds great emotional power.”
By 1977, one year after publication, Bowles lamented that this publication of 500 copies had already reached $150 on the rare book market and was difficult to obtain. As a result, Bowles authorized a collected of his poetry to be issued by John Martin’s Black Sparrow Press, which included “Next to Nothing”. The poem also named the collection testifying to its importance for Bowles personally.
Interestingly, Next to Nothing also serves as a fine example of the Internet’s effect on the rare book market. The Web helped recalibrate what was truly rare and desirable in the market. In an era that made it easy to advertise availability, books which seemed impossible to find turned out to be rather common. Next to Nothing falls into that category. Therefore, Cohen’s edition is more readily available than ever. And at the same price as nearly four decades ago. There are four copies on Abebooks for $150 or lower. It is worth your money in my opinion. In the electronic bookselling, cash is king as collecting requires less and less time and effort.