The Shady Side of Town book review

On a fresh Mayday morning, I went along to the first part of an organised walk at that eleven acre wedge of melancholy calm and beauty known as Reading Old Cemetery.  An eager crowd of around a hundred souls had gathered to learn more of Reading’s trees and celebrate the publishing of a remarkable book on the subject.

Although the moronic traffic noise assailed us at times, we learnt so many things about the weeping beech, holm oak and other notable trees. A muntjac deer appeared at one point to see what the fuss was about. The Shady Side of Town: Reading’s Trees by Adrian Lawson and Geoff Sawers is a quirky and inclusive guide to some of our finest and most interesting local specimens and is packed with fond facts and bold art.

Each tree in the book has been carefully chosen for its variety, diversity and uniqueness. It’s expressed in Adrian Lawson’s knowledgeable, loving prose accompanied by original, stark, imaginative painting from accomplished artist Geoff Sawers. They are a class double act that should be united again for further work. It is lovely to see trees from the town centre arcing out to our suburbs, even on my old manor at Whitley Rec, where me and my mates would fleet the time carelessly with bat and ball in that golden age of awakening, the 1970s.

This lovely compact volume is meant to make you get out there. So when in vacant or in pensive mood you can stuff it in your hoodie pocket and go and see for yourselves. There are well over thirty trees to visit: including such exotic sounding specimens as wild service, black poplar, cedar of Lebanon, Bhutan pine plus our lovely sweet chestnuts, oaks and other natives.

The book ends with a plea from the authors to re-wild and turn Reading into an urban woodland. I loved the chutzpah of this bravura little volume and I dare you to suggest that the authors haven’t got a good point. Garden green town or dark satanic living machine anyone?

It would be churlish to suggest the book could do with a slightly bolder print or maybe a dandy little map as I suspect this would up the very reasonable £8.99 under-a-tennerness. Two pints worth of glorious local and profound knowledge throwing light into our cerebral and spiritual darkness is well worth it in my view.

This book is a great addition to the impressive bank of local culture and history amassed by the Two Rivers Press.  Rumour has it that the authors would even sign your copy if you were to Facebook them.

In John Clares‘ poetic masterpiece The Fallen Elm he described a tree as a “friend not inanimate – though stocks and stones” and went on to suggest the life and existence of trees was a timeless buffer against the barbarity of the modern world. You could argue that trees are as important as ephemeral buildings and other vainglorious architecture, if not more so. A symbol of peace and essential healthy verdant life in this era of sound and fury.

The Fickle Finger of Doom stalks Reading Cemetery

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.

  1. The Shady Side of Town (Two Rivers Press), on Facebook and Amazon
  2. Reading Tree Wardens
  3. Reading Old Cemetery

7 thoughts on “The Shady Side of Town book review

    • I have been told that “The Shady Side of Town” can be found at the RISC bookshop (London St), the Reading Museum bookshop and Waterstones in the town centre.

  1. I don’t know the John Clare poem but I think a considerably lesser poet of the nameless variety tried to say something similar in reaction to the truncation of the Indian bean tree a few years back:


    I stood here before you.
    Once you loved and tended me,
    Lay beneath my branches.
    But I lost your love.

    With brute force you tried to fell me
    Leaving me for dead.
    But I was too strong for you,
    My roots lay deep in the earth.

    And the sap that had flowed
    Down centuries long
    Would not be quenched
    But gave me new life.

    Man, be warned of this:
    As I stood before you, so
    I will live here after you,
    Whatever may befall.


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