My favourite Scottish independent bookshop is also the one I have tried to visit least.
For me, a trip to Edinburgh’s Word Power Books is an expensive business, both in terms of money and time.
I cannot leave without at least one purchase. And a minimum of half an hour is always required to allow for a thorough inspection of shelves and tables crammed with the best political analysis, literature, poetry, philosophy and travel writing. There’s also an intriguing children’s section featuring titles such as A is for Activist and Tales for Little Rebels.
The reaction to this week’s news that Word Power is to close indicates I am not alone. As the writer Dilys Rose has put it: ‘Word Power is more than a book shop, it’s a way of life.’
Since opening the shop in 1994 owners Elaine Henry and Tarlochan Singh Gill have turned Word Power into a vital hub for independent political and creative thought.
For the book lover a trip to Word Power is alive with the possibility of the kind of chance discovery increasingly unavailable in high street chains. I have stumbled across dozens of titles by small publishers – including Luath, Pluto, Verso, Haymarket, Zed, Zero, and Word Power’s own imprint – that have opened up previously unsuspected horizons of thought. The shop also has a comprehensive online store that, rather unlike Amazon, greets the visitor with quotations from the likes of Erich Fromm, CLR James and Wilhelm Reich.
But excellent as their selection is, Word Power is as well known for events as for books, which have included countless book launches, discussion evenings, ‘Radical Burns Night Suppers’, and the annual Edinburgh Book Fringe and Independent Radical Book Fair, which over the years have attracted speakers such as Ali Smith, AJ Kennedy, Benjamin Zephaniah, George Monbiot, Owen Jones, Ken MacLeod, James Kelman, Janice Galloway, Richard Holloway, Lesley Riddoch and Ilan Pappe. The devastating selection of books available at the Book Fair, presented on tables spanning the full length of the Blue Drill Hall in Dalmeny Street, must be budgeted for some weeks in advance.
Running Word Power and its constellation of events has been a great labour of love for Elaine and Tarlochan for many years, a battle in a hostile marketplace that has overwhelmed so many independent booksellers. As Elaine’s statement on the Word Power site says, they well deserve the opportunity to hang up their ’bookselling boots and move on to pastures new’.
All those who love what Word Power represents can only hope that a new owner can be found willing and able to carry on the traditions they have established. Word Power has always felt like a place out of time, envisioning some future beyond utilitarianism and homogeneity, a hope embodied by the presence of the shop and the community that surrounds it. Here, at least, another world has always seemed possible.
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