An independent bookshop spotlighting women’s writing is opening in Edinburgh today (6th August), inspired by a successful book club.
Spearheaded by Rachel Wood (pictured), a 33 year-old from Canada who has lived in the city for 12 years, Rare Birds Book Shop was born out of Wood’s desire to centre and "celebrate" words by women, and was launched off the back of her virtual book club.
Wood launched the Rare Birds book club and subscription service four years ago, and sees the new store as an extension of the online community. Every month, members get a choice between two book club picks, which are described in a brief synopsis while the title remains anonymous. The book is delivered with an introduction from the Rare Birds company, encouraging readers to pick titles out of their comfort zone.
At the end of the month, the community meets back online, to share insights, interview the author and engage in a chat forum. The online events were well underway when the pandemic struck, and saw its membership grow as more people turned to reading in lockdown. The business grew and a strong Christmas made it possible to invest in shop premises.
"The success of the book club certainly made it possible to make this dream a reality," Wood told The Bookseller. "I had a vision of a headquarters for us; where we could work from and run the subscription, host events and showcase the books and authors we love."
Wood has hired three part time staff to join the three full timers working at the 1,000 sq ft store in Raeburn Place, Stockbridge. It carries roughly 2,500 fiction and non-fiction titles by women, and also sells gifts and stationery, including a new range of candles called Book Smells, which are themed after book genres. On opening day, visitors will be able to purchase a book bundle, the proceeds of which will go to Edinburgh Fringe Festival Society.
Author events, book club meetings, writing workshops, craft workshops and late-night shopping sessions are in the pipeline for the forthcoming months, but these will be confirmed once "the other side of the pandemic" is reached.
Rare Birds Shop is a trans-inclusive celebration of women’s writing. Describing the inspiration and ethos behind launching the shop, Wood said: “I’m sure I’m not alone in my experience of studying English literature at school—the reading lists were dominated by male authors and I became conscious of the fact that the male perspective of the world was basically the default lens we were viewing the world through.
“At some point I started thinking about what would happen if this were the other way around—what if the default point of view was female? What themes would come up? What would we notice? It was an interesting idea for me and I started making a point of seeking out female authors in my own reading.
“Something I noticed very quickly was how much ‘stuff’ there was surrounding books by women. There was such a divide between, for example, commercial women’s fiction and literary fiction—often to me it felt like there was room to take a handful of writers seriously, while many other extremely talented authors were being belittled or ignored or pigeon-holed into certain genres. For the most part, to me at least, it didn’t feel like male authors were having to contend with this in the same way."
She added: “So when I started Rare Birds I just wanted to reframe all that for our members. I wanted to shine a spotlight on all the interesting books women were writing and bring them to the notice of our readers, and then I wanted to completely neutralise the tedious conversation that’s so often attached to women’s writing.
“In our world, all books and genres are created equal, we’re trying to connect the right book with the right reader at the right time. Sometimes the right book is a really boundary-pushing work of speculative fiction. Sometimes the right book is a really fun and breezy romance. The only thing that matters to us is that you enjoy it."