It’s Not My Mountain Anymore Book Review by Art Menius


I published this review on amazon.com on 12/30/2011. Barbara sells hard copies from her website, http://itsnotmymountainanymore.com/. The book is available from Amazon.com and to Amazon Prime Members. I am pushing my friend’s book because through Sunday, January 1, 2012  {sorry for the earlier error of Monday] Amazon is offering downloads of free Kindle ebook copies.

The link to the free Kindle ebook available through Monday, January 2, 2012 is:

http://www.amazon.com/Its-Not-Mountain-Anymore-ebook/dp/B006359KSY/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1325342510&sr=8-2

Barbara Taylor Woodall, It’s Not My Mountain Anymore (Sylva, NC: Catch the Spirit of Appalachia, 2011) pp. 192

review by Art Menius

Barbara Taylor Woodall, author of gripping the memoir, It’s Not My Mountain Anymore, tells the story of the last half of the 20th century in Appalachian Georgia from a fascinating personal perspective. She deals with five important themes:

1) old time mountain ways of life and stories
2) the Foxfire phenomenon from the perspective of a local student in the program and how it changed her life
3) the filming of Deliverance and how devastating it is to a community when outsiders control the narrative and tell the story from their perspective
4) adaptation and self-determination by starting one’s own business and making money off of the outsiders
5) how residential and tourism development in a southern Appalachian community can be just as destructive of community and lifestyle as mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia

All the growing up section is wonderful. Born in 1954, Woodall’s family in the remote mountains along the North Carolina – Georgia border still maintained a traditional Appalachian farm life and network of relatives. The main change in 100 years was that her dad had to work a day job plus his farm work and the kids had to attend school. I grew up in Raleigh, 300 miles to the east of her, surrounded by professors and politicians. During the summer, however, I spent much of the time at my old maid aunt’s farm, where she still lived as she had been raised around 1900. She did not get electricity or indoor plumbing until 1967 and never got a phone. Before that she didn’t even have a well but hauled water out of a spring house on the creek a good 1/8 mile away. Woodall’s account rings true, illuminated by a collection the her best family stories. If it stopped her, the book could be recommended to anyone who likes the Waltons or Harriet Simpson Arnow.

Perhaps even more powerful is the section on the impact of Foxfire on Taylor’s life. She went from a bored kid having no interest in school to a complete immersion in Foxfire that led to her being published in Seventeen Magazine. Foxfire, like Appalshop in Kentucky, was an experience in local youth discovering and examining their own communities and traditions as a path to self-discovery and self-empowerment. Outsiders began both in the late 1960s, but the institutions have survived their parting and many other obstacles for more than 40 years. The reader is left wondering why she didn’t continue to work there or as a journalist.

As her narrative progresses, I kept turning the pages, consuming the book in one afternoon. During the last quarter of the past century she describes the issues of drugs, extractive industries, and demands of making a living in a economically colonized area from a personal perspective.

The first 150 pages of It’s Not My Mountain Anymore fit in the very best tradition of southern mountain storytelling. Like all great tellers, Woodall explores dozens of forks and branches but always keeps a clear central storyline moving forward, connecting the specific to the universal. It was hard to put it down except when nature called, or I just got tired of the fat cat sitting on my arm. To be honest, I felt the last 40 pages meandered a bit in narrative thrust and structure in the way the wonderful first 150 do not. Still there was a lot of good stuff there about issues of vital importance to Appalachia today.

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