Battle of the Bookshops: Word Power in Edinburgh

30th Jul 2010

Word Power Books Edinburgh

When I meet people from Scotland I ask them if they know Word Power. I ask them as if it were an old friend of mine, someone who I love, someone who inspires me…Maximum respect to Word Power. It’s a bookshop that I do not think of as a business. I think of it as a caring, radical, progressive and passionate public service.

Benjamin Zephaniah

If it hadn’t been for an unexpected rainstorm on my way to visit David Hume Tower, the hub of Edinburgh University’s arts and humanities faculty, my choice of university might have been entirely different.

Which isn’t to say that I made the decision to study there based on the bookshop I sheltered in, but it definitely helped. For four years, Word Power was my home-away-from-home. It got me through demoralising Greek lectures where I tried and failed to translate The Iliad, flatmates with boundary issues and more break-ups than I care to remember. If I’m honest, most of my student loan was probably spent there, and I still can’t cross the border without making a trip.

Opened in 1994, it has played a crucial role in Edinburgh’s literary scene, hosting readings and participating in the book fairs and festivals that proliferate throughout Scotland’s capital city. It stocks a dizzying array of progressive texts, from Marxist criticism and feminist polemic through to lesbian erotica. Even their colour scheme is radical – the white, purple and green were the colours of the suffragette movement.

It has expanded in the ten years since I dripped rainwater over their displays, with a larger store allowing for an even greater range of books. As is the way of independent booksellers, they support small presses – the kind, in the words of Ali Smith, “that larger corporations don’t know what to do with.” They even produce some of their own publications, that range from a moving account of the survivors of Bhopal to Aileen Christianson’s study of the writing of little-known Scottish author Willa Muir.

Their website, which would put Amazon to shame, offers a comprehensive guide to Edinburgh’s literary and political culture, and their staff are equally well-informed. Word Power is more than a bookshop, it’s a hub for Edinburgh’s activist community. In a city that can all too often be dominated by wealth and elitism, it is a pleasurable reminder that Edinburgh’s anarchist side is still in evidence. It’s an essential port of call for any student, visitor or bibliophile. To echo A. L Kennedy, “in an age of increasingly timid and poorly-supplied chain bookshops, everyone should be glad that Word Power exists.”

Know of an independent bookshop we should be featuring in this weekly literary love-in? Let us know in the comments or email us if you’d be interested in writing a guest post about the indie bookshop dear to your heart.

Guest post by Kaite Welsh

(Image via Cath Redfern’s Flickr photostream)