Even so, to those familiar with the city, and visitors encountering it for the first time, the disparate areas of the capital are every bit as distinctive. We have, for instance, the cufflink quarter that covers the business streets of the New Town and spills up Lothian Road. There's the pubic triangle, at the end of the Grassmarket, redoubt of stag parties, pole dancers and good dusty bookshops; and then there's the spice crossroads, near the university, which exudes the aroma of curry even more strongly than Haymarket reeks of hops.
I'm not a curry eater, sadly, but I like this part of the city, partly because it's where I first lived when I moved to Edinburgh but mainly because it is busy, grubby and cityish, full of old Edinburgers and tradesfolk and students. It's also the location for one of Edinburgh's most appealing independent bookshops, Word Power Books, at 43-45 West Nicholson Street. Of this haven, Kathleen Jamie wrote: "When you find Word Power, it's like sighting a fox or a sparrowhawk in the city. You think, yesss!"
Although Word Power sells new books, it has all the allure of an old-fashioned second-hand bookshop, being cosy, jam-packed, and peaceful. It also has a remarkably wide range of titles, some of them exactly what you'd expect to find in a shop that specialises in political, philosophical and ethical works, some a little more surprising.
On Friday, Word Power opens its annual Edinburgh Book Fringe, which runs until August 24. Don't be fooled by the word fringe. Unlike its artistic twin, this fringe is free. It may be a mere tassle on the cushion of its big brother, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but its intention is not to compete but to differ. This fringe is no pale imitation of Charlotte Square, but an individual in its own right.
It kicks off with the launch of James Kelman's superb new novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky (August 10, 7pm). Thereafter, the festival offers a daily programme of events with authors ranging from Ciaran O'Driscoll, Russell Kane and William Letford to Raja Shehadeh, Tom Leonard and China Mieville. Several of the writers will also be at the other book festival a mile or so away, but for the Book Fringe audience, the difference will be marked.
In Word Power, authors talk in the intimate surroundings of the back room, where even the most timid in the audience will find themselves emboldened to ask questions. (I speak from experience, whereas the thought of raising a hand at the Charlotte Square sessions would require tranquillisers at the very least.)
Not only does this fringe have a relaxed and faintly radical agenda, which is what gives it its personality, but it offers a venue for certain kinds of writers who might not otherwise find a public platform, their subject perhaps not orthodox or popular enough, or their publisher too small. Just as importantly, it gives readers a wholly different experience. These events are to the big commercial festivals what samizdat publishing is to the mainstream. There's something elementary and vital about this sort of writer and reader encounter, enhanced as it is by the possibility that, having paid nothing to attend, you might feel more willing or able to buy the book. This, then, truly is a festival for everyone, as democratic and open as this business can ever be.
I was talking recently to a novelist who, like many of us involved in the book business, feels a little jaded by the number and predictability of book festivals that have sprouted across Scotland. He did, however, stress that in many places, the smaller festivals which attract less fanfare are a Good Thing. Well, the Edinburgh Book Fringe is exactly that.
For details, go to www.word-power.co.uk.