Having a place to go, a feeling of community through shared interests is worth its weight in gold. Rachel Woods, Founder and Owner of Rare Birds Book Shop in Edinburgh has created just such a space with her independent bookshop dedicated entirely to women’s writing.

As you can imagine, Rare Birds Books is right up our alley so we asked Rachel to tell us a bit more about her story and the value of female bookshops.

Rachel Woods:

In the summer of 2021, we opened a bookstore in Edinburgh called Rare Birds Book Shop – a boutique indy bookshop that’s dedicated entirely to celebrating and promoting women’s writing.

This move wasn’t without precedent; our book subscription Rare Birds Book Club had already existed for five years before it, and by the time we’d survived the lockdown year of 2020 we were more focused than ever on bringing our online community together in real life.

In the weeks leading up to our opening it was a frenzy of painting and renovating, and curious locals would often poke their heads in and inquire about what the empty unit would be turning into after all this time.

Reactions could be roughly divided into two groups – the people who knew us already, and were delighted, and the people who’d never heard of us, who were more sceptical, muttering something along the lines of is-that-really-necessary before moving on.

To the latter group we’d say – truthfully – we weren’t sure. We knew we wanted it, and knew our subscribers in Edinburgh and beyond did too, but had no idea how we’d be received by the wider community when we opened our doors.

As it turned out, we didn’t need to worry: on the morning we opened there was a queue of people waiting to get in, and on our opening weekend more than two thousand people crossed the threshold.

In the nearly two years since we opened our doors I’ve learned a lot about the value of women’s bookshops and why they appeal to customers – here’s what I know to be true.

No snobs, no sneering

Women are used to having their tastes sneered at, and we were clear we wanted our store to be a fun, inviting space without any snobbery. We divided our store into two sections: the fiction room and the non-fiction room. Everything is organised alphabetically by author – no genres! It helps readers break out of their established patterns and helps reinforce the message that as long as you’re enjoying yourself there’s no wrong way to read. In our world the dependable romcom is as important as the literary heavyweight – it’s all just a matter of reading for the mood you’re in.

Making friends is fun

People often talk about reading like it’s a solitary pursuit, but it’s surprisingly social, and one of our aims with the store was to create a space where you could come and find common ground with other book lovers. Every month we do at least one community-focused event, from make friends mixers to galentine’s day parties to literary pub quizzes. A shared love of books is a great way to break the ice when you’re meeting new people and we love bringing people together to hang out and have fun – many friendships have been formed!

Respect for women’s creativity

Another thing we’ve learned over time is that women don’t always get their work taken seriously – even the most successful writers in the world get stuck talking about how their personal lives influenced their work instead of meatier questions about craft and intention. It’s a joy to bring a group of people together who treat women writers and their work with genuine enthusiasm and respect.

A big thank you to Rachel for sharing more about her experiences running Rare Birds Books. If you need a brilliant book by a woman and are visiting Edinburgh, we highly recommend popping to the shop. You won’t leave empty-handed!