Book Talk: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth

Last week, the book club at the Grand Island Memorial Library discussed The Secret Wisdom of the Earth, by Christopher Scotten. This is a first novel by the author, who has, in the past, worked as a carpenter, bouncer, kite flyer, amusement park ride operator, and CEO of a few technology companies.

The main character is Kevin, age fourteen. His brother recently died in a terrible accident. He is struggling with his feelings, resulting from having witnessed the accident and with being blamed by his father for the accident. His mother has sunk into a deep depression. Kevin and his mother went to Kentucky to spend the summer with Kevin’s maternal grandfather, a semi-retired veterinarian, called “Pops.” The story centers around Kevin, his friend Buzzy, and Kevin’s grandfather. The book is more than a character study, however. It is a very tightly written story about a clash of values, from the perspective of a fourteen year old boy. What is more important: energy or maintenance of a beautiful mountainous environment? Do companies have the right to get coal by any means necessary?

The issue that is dramatically presented is mountaintop removal. That is a coal mining practice that is very controversial. It has been called “strip mining on steroids.” Mountaintop removal is a very literal term. It actually involves the removal of the tops of mountains to reveal coal deposits beneath the surface. The trees on top of the mountain may be clear cut or burned or bulldozed. Then explosives are placed and the mountaintops are blown off. This is a mining technique that has been used since the 1970s. The process produces a toxic soup, called slurry. The slurry might be sent into underground mines. Apparently, this has caused contamination of the water supply. People have reported brown liquid coming out of their taps.

The practice of mountaintop removal take place mainly in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee. Here is a link to an article that describes the impacts to the environment of mountaintop removal: mountaintop removal article. Author Christopher Scotton said that he felt moved to write the book because, when he was in college, he fell in love with the music of Appalachia. He later went to visit Appalachia several times. On one of his visits, he witnessed mountaintop removal. He described the mine in the devastated mountain as that “horrific gray scar.”

In the book, the conflict over mountaintop removal in the town of Medgar, Kentucky, leads to deadly violence.

That’s where I will leave it. If you have a chance, read the book. It’s well written and the characters come to life within the book’s 431 pages.

My request of you: What books would you recommend for people to read? Please tell me about some of the books that you’ve enjoyed. I am hoping to post a Readers’ Choice blog post before Christmas. Thank you!!!

2 thoughts on “Book Talk: The Secret Wisdom of the Earth”

  1. One of my favorite books that I read this year is A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman. It's about a grumpy old man who is more than what is visible to the eye. I loved it!

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