What is it about Jay Leutze’s new book, “Stand Up That Mountain: The Battle to Save One Small Community in the Wilderness Along the Appalachian Trail,” that has created so much buzz?
You can make your own judgment this weekend (Friday 9:30 p.m. and Sunday 5 p.m.), when Leutze is a guest on UNC-TV’s North Carolina Bookwatch.
Leutze’s book, his first, has already made several bestseller lists. Earlier in the summer it was number 1 on the Amazon Environmental Law list and more recently made the number 8 position on the Southern Independent Bookseller list.
Reviewers and commentators have been supportive. Some focus on Leutze’s vivid description of the story’s characters.
Writing in The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Steve Weinberg says, “Leutze makes memorable work. He is brilliant at portraying characters (heroes and villains alike) and depicting his stunning setting.”
Lee Smith agrees. She says that Leutze “could not possibly make these people up….‘Stand Up That Mountain’ is populated with riveting real characters from a world apart. Leutze lets us listen as they speak and tells their story —and his own —with an expert hand. He has given us a glimpse of Appalachia that is both heartbreaking and inspiring.”
The first such real character we meet is a 14-year-old, home-schooled, Avery County mountain girl named Ashley Cook. Her house had been damaged by blasting and digging that was preparation for a rock mine. She was determined to stop the mine, and by learning to use the internet, she has found that the mine owner and his employees were not complying with North Carolina mining law.
Ashley recruited Leutze to help her and sent him on an odyssey that took him to state government offices in Raleigh, lawyers’ offices, local courthouses, courtrooms, environment organization headquarters, mine sites, and points along the Appalachian Trail.
Before the story is over, Leutze’s readers have gotten to know mountain people better than most other people. and they have experienced a case study in how government works, sometimes to protect its citizens and sometimes to protect the interests of the rich and powerful at the expense of the ordinary citizen.
What might have been a dry recounting of the efforts to stop the rock mine turns out to be a human-interest thriller, thanks to Leutze’s literary skills and instincts and his careful and respectful attention to the characters in the drama he recreates and organizes.
But the book is more, as Leutze’s editor, David Ray, explained at a recent event: “When this book was in the final stages of editing, something I overheard Jay say that the experience that he relates in the book was a very trying one but that was ‘ultimately life affirming.’ As much as this story is about the environment and is about conservation values, what it really is at heart is about people who refuse to let themselves be wronged.
“The book is purportedly about standing up a mountain, but it is ultimately about people who stood themselves up in the face of powerful interests.”
Watch Leutze talk about his book on North Carolina Bookwatch and decide if you agree that his book is about people who “stood themselves up.”