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Nominated for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton. Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particul Nominated for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton. Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, “country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.” And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton. Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term “feminism”—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art. Far beyond the recently resurrected “Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from “girl singer” managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture. Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.


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Nominated for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton. Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particul Nominated for the 2020 National Book Critics Circle Award The National Book Award finalist and New York Times bestselling author of Heartland focuses her laser-sharp insights on a working-class icon and one of the most unifying figures in American culture: Dolly Parton. Growing up amid Kansas wheat fields and airplane factories, Sarah Smarsh witnessed firsthand the particular vulnerabilities—and strengths—of women in working poverty. Meanwhile, country songs by female artists played in the background, telling powerful stories about life, men, hard times, and surviving. In her family, she writes, “country music was foremost a language among women. It’s how we talked to each other in a place where feelings aren’t discussed.” And no one provided that language better than Dolly Parton. Smarsh challenged a typically male vision of the rural working class with her first book, Heartland, starring the bold, hard-luck women who raised her. Now, in She Come By It Natural, originally published in a four-part series for The Journal of Roots Music, No Depression, Smarsh explores the overlooked contributions to social progress by such women—including those averse to the term “feminism”—as exemplified by Dolly Parton’s life and art. Far beyond the recently resurrected “Jolene” or quintessential “9 to 5,” Parton’s songs for decades have validated women who go unheard: the poor woman, the pregnant teenager, the struggling mother disparaged as “trailer trash.” Parton’s broader career—from singing on the front porch of her family’s cabin in the Great Smoky Mountains to achieving stardom in Nashville and Hollywood, from “girl singer” managed by powerful men to leader of a self-made business and philanthropy empire—offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture. Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, She Come By It Natural is a sympathetic tribute to the icon Dolly Parton and—call it whatever you like—the organic feminism she embodies.

30 review for She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs

  1. 5 out of 5

    Anne Bogel

    This is the book I didn’t know I needed in my life! Reading about Dolly’s life, both personal and professional, was an unexpected grace during a hard season. With history, biography, and close-reading of Parton’s famous songs, Smarsh weaves a tale of female empowerment, brilliant songwriting, and the importance of self-expression. I always love to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of my favorite artists, and this one delivered on that count, as expected. But I was unprepared for the poignancy o This is the book I didn’t know I needed in my life! Reading about Dolly’s life, both personal and professional, was an unexpected grace during a hard season. With history, biography, and close-reading of Parton’s famous songs, Smarsh weaves a tale of female empowerment, brilliant songwriting, and the importance of self-expression. I always love to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of my favorite artists, and this one delivered on that count, as expected. But I was unprepared for the poignancy of reading Dolly’s story against the backdrop of our current cultural climate. Thank you, Sarah Smarsh, and thank you, Dolly Parton. This book is a joy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    JanB

    3.5 stars What a national treasure. Fan or not, most of us are aware of many of her songs. For those who make fun of her appearance, the joke is on them. Her success and business acumen in a male-dominated industry is legendary. She is not averse to self-deprecation and poking fun at herself. But underneath is a woman made of steel, kindness, and generosity. She provided a voice to working class women everywhere. Smarsh writes that “country music is foremost a language among women”, especially po 3.5 stars What a national treasure. Fan or not, most of us are aware of many of her songs. For those who make fun of her appearance, the joke is on them. Her success and business acumen in a male-dominated industry is legendary. She is not averse to self-deprecation and poking fun at herself. But underneath is a woman made of steel, kindness, and generosity. She provided a voice to working class women everywhere. Smarsh writes that “country music is foremost a language among women”, especially poor "mountain" women. Through her music these women felt seen, and many of the songs resonated with women everywhere. Who among us is not familiar with her iconic song “9-To-5”? But what we may not realize is that her name belongs among the short list of the most generous philanthropists of our time. Her charitable giving is legendary, not just in her home state of Tennessee, where she's worked for years to improve literacy and promote education, but worldwide. She grew up dirt poor in one of the most economically depressed area of the country. She vowed to not forget where she came from, and she has made good on her promise. There are too many to list here but a few of her pet projects: - she personally pledged $1,000 per month for six months to families who lost their homes in the Great Smoky Mountain wildfires of 2016 and raised millions more through her star-studded telethon. The My People Fund still exists to help those in need - She founded the Imagination Library which gives a free book every month to children from birth until the first year of school. The effort grew worldwide and to date has given away more than 100 million books. - The Dollywood Foundation awards cash rewards to kids who stay in school. The dropout rate in her home county in TN dropped dramatically - The Dollywood Amusement Park is the top employer in Sevier County, TN, a high poverty region, and also houses the Eagle Mountain Sanctuary which has the country’s largest collection of non-releasable bald eagles - $1 million for a hospital in Sevierville County TN for a women’s ward - $1 million donation to Vanderbilt in honor of a niece who was treated there for leukemia. - $1 million in 2020 to coronavirus research at Vanderbilt University - she is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and HIV/Aids charities And the list goes on…. This book was recommended on a podcast and on a whim, I requested it. If you’re interested in a biography of Dolly Parton, this might not be what you’re looking for. While I appreciated learning more about Dolly’s philanthropy and her struggles and successes in a male-dominated industry I found the link to the author’s life stories and relatives less compelling. Originally a 4 part article, the focus of the book was to link Parton to the feminist movement. But as an ode to Dolly, this book was a complete success. *I received a free e-galley from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Darla

    With Dolly on the cover, I anticipated a book that gave me additional positive insights into her life. Sarah and I were both at the same 2016 concert in Kansas City. My respect for Dolly Parton was raised to a new level after that event, especially when she closed with "He's Alive!" Having Dolly close her concert in such a way affirmed her faith for me and our sisterhood in Christ. If I am to believe Sarah Smarsh, Dolly's mission in life is to uphold the most progressive of feminist principles. With Dolly on the cover, I anticipated a book that gave me additional positive insights into her life. Sarah and I were both at the same 2016 concert in Kansas City. My respect for Dolly Parton was raised to a new level after that event, especially when she closed with "He's Alive!" Having Dolly close her concert in such a way affirmed her faith for me and our sisterhood in Christ. If I am to believe Sarah Smarsh, Dolly's mission in life is to uphold the most progressive of feminist principles. Along the way Smarsh attacks conservative policies wherever they might be flourishing proclaiming them to be a step backward. In an already contentious atmosphere, I was looking forward to Dolly's unifying spirit in this book. What I got was a heaping helping of "you can't truly be a woman unless you voted for Hilary in 2016." While reading this digital galley I have also been listening to Sarah Huckabee Sanders' memoir, 'Speaking For Myself.' The grace and acceptance of woman on both sides of politics flows off the page and makes listening a joy. I cannot honestly say that I enjoyed much of this Sarah Smarsh and untangling the rhetoric gave me a headache. Sorry, but I do not recommend it. Thank you to Scribner and NetGalley for a DRC in exchange for an honest review.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Vonda

    From the description it led me to think this was a biography and sharing tales of the people she wrote her songs about.. Not so. The original piece this book was based on was four years old so it's not even up to date. It was interesting but behind the times. From the description it led me to think this was a biography and sharing tales of the people she wrote her songs about.. Not so. The original piece this book was based on was four years old so it's not even up to date. It was interesting but behind the times.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)

    I cannot begin to explain or understand the magic of Dolly Parton. She's a savvy businesswoman and appears to be one of the kindest and most generous human beings on the planet, not to mention the fact that she's created an entire career out of playing a role and making jokes at her own expense while always maintaining the real upper hand. Her career has been fascinating even if you're not a fan of her music. I absolutely love the fact this woman is in total control of her image and after findin I cannot begin to explain or understand the magic of Dolly Parton. She's a savvy businesswoman and appears to be one of the kindest and most generous human beings on the planet, not to mention the fact that she's created an entire career out of playing a role and making jokes at her own expense while always maintaining the real upper hand. Her career has been fascinating even if you're not a fan of her music. I absolutely love the fact this woman is in total control of her image and after finding success continues to give back to her community. She Come By It Natural is a four part collection originally published by No Depression magazine that looks at Dolly's contribution to social progress for women, examining her life and songs; and how they spoke to author Sarah Smarsh and the women in her family. I'll pretty much read anything about Dolly Parton because I feel like we're all searching for a clue to solve a mystery. But I'm perfectly content to marvel in her kindness and sense of humor. For more reviews, visit www.rootsandreads.wordpress.com

  6. 5 out of 5

    Holly

    4.5 stars If you think we did a disservice to Britney Spears, well wait until you read this book about Dolly Parton. I LOVED this way more than I ever thought I would have. Do I listen to a lot of country music? No. Do I know a lot of Dolly Parton songs off the top of my head? No. Did I still really enjoy this book? Yes! This book took everything I thought I knew about Dolly Parton (over sexualized, overly done, fake, corny) and TURNED IT ON IT'S HEAD. I am not even sure why I picked this book up, 4.5 stars If you think we did a disservice to Britney Spears, well wait until you read this book about Dolly Parton. I LOVED this way more than I ever thought I would have. Do I listen to a lot of country music? No. Do I know a lot of Dolly Parton songs off the top of my head? No. Did I still really enjoy this book? Yes! This book took everything I thought I knew about Dolly Parton (over sexualized, overly done, fake, corny) and TURNED IT ON IT'S HEAD. I am not even sure why I picked this book up, but thank goodness I did. She is a feminist powerhouse without ever stating she is a feminist - which is basically what most women really want to achieve at the end of the day. We want to support our fellow women, change the status quo, but all the while avoiding the feminist label that tends to garner even more misogyny and criticism from both men and women. This is how Dolly did it: If you are going to be judged on your appearance - then OWN your appearance in every way by stylizing yourself to suit yourself before someone can come along and try to objectify you anyways. If you want to help financially support the poor area you grew up in but still maintain it's culture - then move away, get rich, move back and create an entire theme park that boosts the local economy in such a large way that it improves the lives of everyone in the area, whether or not they work there (kind of like Disney and Orlando, the area where I am from). If you want to change people's perception of how to treat women in the workplace - then co-star in a movie that is all about women taking back power, even from other women who would judge you based on your appearance. If you want control over your own career and money - then demand what you are worth. In Dolly's case this included royalty fees, even when it's Elvis Presley asking to do her song (and thank goodness she stood her ground because Whitney Houston did the song justice while making bank for Parton). And this is just some of the things she has done that is discussed in the book, there's a lot more! SERIOUSLY, GO PICK THIS UP! I also can recommend the audiobook, the author is the narrator and she does a lovely job.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book offers a unique perspective on the history of second wave feminism as experienced by economically poor hard-luck women who battle for survival. The narrative is structured around the life and singing career of Dolly Parton with frequent reference to the women in the author's own life growing up in a poor rural Kansas family that is described in the author's earlier book, Heartland . The two books stand on their own, but they are very much companions subject wise. The author's grandm This book offers a unique perspective on the history of second wave feminism as experienced by economically poor hard-luck women who battle for survival. The narrative is structured around the life and singing career of Dolly Parton with frequent reference to the women in the author's own life growing up in a poor rural Kansas family that is described in the author's earlier book, Heartland . The two books stand on their own, but they are very much companions subject wise. The author's grandmother is the same age as Dolly, and the author has childhood memories of riding in the car with her mother singing along with Dolly's songs on the car radio. Dolly Parton was born in 1946 in East Tennessee the fourth of 12 siblings in a family that may have been poor but never ashamed of it. Dolly has remained attached to her East Tennessee roots. Because of the economic similarities between the author's background and that of Parton's, it is logical that the author would choose Dolly Parton's life to further amplify the issues that have shaped poor women's lives. The irony is the most women from this economic class, including Dolly who is no longer poor, deny being feminists. However, they will quickly agree that everybody including women should be treated fairly and with respect. Obviously, that's the very definition of feminism! I think the problem with the term "feminism" is that it carries the reputation of being a left wing liberal thing. Dolly's success as a singer and business woman has placed her now among the wealthiest of entertainers. She has funded a number of impressive philanthropic initiatives, and has focused much of her attention on the East Tennessee area.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Geoff

    I really hope Dolly Parton doesn't have to any skeletons in her closet, because that would be just devastating; it's hard not to think of here as both a feminist icon and an American Saint. Her embrace of her image, sexuality, and business in the man's world of 20th century music is impressive, her rags to rhinestones and riches story is iconic, and her understated philanthropy changes lives (her Imagination Library gives away a MILLION books a MONTH to kids!!!!). And that all without even menti I really hope Dolly Parton doesn't have to any skeletons in her closet, because that would be just devastating; it's hard not to think of here as both a feminist icon and an American Saint. Her embrace of her image, sexuality, and business in the man's world of 20th century music is impressive, her rags to rhinestones and riches story is iconic, and her understated philanthropy changes lives (her Imagination Library gives away a MILLION books a MONTH to kids!!!!). And that all without even mentioning her music or winning stage persona. This book was more than just a hagiography; it was a really interesting combination of academic study of Parton and a personal history of Parton's image and impact. Smarsh is both a trained academic and cultural critic and also grew up poor in the Midwest listening to Dolly and Loreta and Tammy and Winona. A combination of third wave feminist analysis, contemporary political analysis, and personal reminiscence could be clunky, but Smarsh's stories and analysis lend seamlessly affecting both the head and the heart. A great book. **Thanks to the author, publisher, and Netgalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Rennie

    3.5 This is such a conundrum because I loved the parts about Dolly's life and how so much of what she did was revolutionary in terms of the time and how she was treated (often abhorrently). I felt less enthusiastic about the bits that related Parton's particular brand of feminism, whether that's what she'd call it or not, to Smarsh's family. I guess it was a decent example of "the women who lived her songs" as the title says, but it didn't feel as powerful. Maybe that's the point, how universal 3.5 This is such a conundrum because I loved the parts about Dolly's life and how so much of what she did was revolutionary in terms of the time and how she was treated (often abhorrently). I felt less enthusiastic about the bits that related Parton's particular brand of feminism, whether that's what she'd call it or not, to Smarsh's family. I guess it was a decent example of "the women who lived her songs" as the title says, but it didn't feel as powerful. Maybe that's the point, how universal much of this is. It made me want to read Dolly's autobiography more than anything.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Sage

    I really enjoyed this book. I’ve been a fan of Dolly Parton, and of country music, for my whole life, and the debt that country music owes Dolly is immense. I liked the juxtaposition of Dolly’s life/background with the author’s own background as a child growing up in rural Kansas. That was really well done, and really poignant when she talked about her grandma Betty being the same age as Dolly, and the parallels of their early life. I especially liked the introduction — the world has definitely I really enjoyed this book. I’ve been a fan of Dolly Parton, and of country music, for my whole life, and the debt that country music owes Dolly is immense. I liked the juxtaposition of Dolly’s life/background with the author’s own background as a child growing up in rural Kansas. That was really well done, and really poignant when she talked about her grandma Betty being the same age as Dolly, and the parallels of their early life. I especially liked the introduction — the world has definitely changed between the original publication of these essays and 2020. I appreciated the effort being made to put the essays in the context of their time. And I loved the exploration of women in country music — as a longtime fan of (specifically) women in country music (except Keith Urban, he can stay), I appreciated the recognition of the fact that female artists are played less on the radio than male artists, and all of the other bullshit. Hopefully that will change for the better in the future.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angela~

    I didn’t really care for this book too much. I thought it was a book about Dolly Parton, but it was a book about Dolly and feminism. And Dolly herself has said she’s not a feminist, that she just wants everyone to be equal, It says this very statement in this book, as well. Although I didn’t really like the book in general, there were some places in particular that discussed Dolly and her life and her thoughts on things that Interested me. That’s why I gave the 2 stars instead of 1. So, if you’r I didn’t really care for this book too much. I thought it was a book about Dolly Parton, but it was a book about Dolly and feminism. And Dolly herself has said she’s not a feminist, that she just wants everyone to be equal, It says this very statement in this book, as well. Although I didn’t really like the book in general, there were some places in particular that discussed Dolly and her life and her thoughts on things that Interested me. That’s why I gave the 2 stars instead of 1. So, if you’re looking for a autobiography or biography on Dolly, it’s not that at all. Or it isn’t in my opinion anyway. Thank you to #NetGalley and the publishers for the opportunity to read and review #SheComesByItNaturally . My thoughts and views are my own.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Meredith

    **I received an e-ARC from NetGalley for an honest review** While the concept is good, execution falls flat. The summary that made me want to read this book made it seem like the author was going to reference how Dolly's life influenced one of her songs, and that song then went on to influence someone else. In other words, I expected more Dolly. I have to wonder if Dolly or her music were even necessary for this book, or if the author took her own views and merely picked Dolly's songs at random to **I received an e-ARC from NetGalley for an honest review** While the concept is good, execution falls flat. The summary that made me want to read this book made it seem like the author was going to reference how Dolly's life influenced one of her songs, and that song then went on to influence someone else. In other words, I expected more Dolly. I have to wonder if Dolly or her music were even necessary for this book, or if the author took her own views and merely picked Dolly's songs at random to make her points. It easily felt as if any female singer-songwriter could have been used. Overall, this felt bland and like something I would have been forced to read by a TA (who probably wrote it) in a freshman comp class.

  13. 4 out of 5

    TL

    *Overdrive app* Narrator (the author): 4 stars 🌟🤩 Very interesting view on things

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nursebookie

    Enjoyed this essay series and learned along the way about Dolly Parton and the political and social climate through historical accounts and author’s personal experiences. I knew Parton was instrumental in support of LGBTQ and multicultural views. A humanitarian and a person I admire. We done!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    SHE COME BY IT NATURAL: DOLLY PARTON AND THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HER SONGS by Sarah Smarsh is as much for the 🎵 Jolene🎵 fans as it is for those wanting to turn a critical eye to the influence of Dolly more broadly—on pop culture, her refusal to identify as a feminist, and the discourse around white working class rural women that she sought to challenge the representations of. . This will delight fans of her music and role as an icon as there is discussion about the influences on her lyrics and the pat SHE COME BY IT NATURAL: DOLLY PARTON AND THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HER SONGS by Sarah Smarsh is as much for the 🎵 Jolene🎵 fans as it is for those wanting to turn a critical eye to the influence of Dolly more broadly—on pop culture, her refusal to identify as a feminist, and the discourse around white working class rural women that she sought to challenge the representations of. . This will delight fans of her music and role as an icon as there is discussion about the influences on her lyrics and the path her music career took, her fierce and determined protection of her brand and intellectual property, and the conversations around her choices in fashion and cosmetic surgery and how she presents herself. I also appreciated that it also looked at the empire Dolly has created around her, including the problematic “Dixie Stampede” that made the Civil War a form of family entertainment in a live-show format, without even mentioning slavery. Don’t write this one off as a celebrity memoir, the discussions in it are robust and critical, and told with such a compelling narrative voice (much like Smarsh’s earlier HEARTLAND). I also highly recommend listening to the audiobook which Smarsh narrates herself. . That said, it is a very niche and focused read, one that I think truly benefited from Smarsh’s own personal commentary around Dolly and what she meant to her and women in her family. While the intersections around class and regional (Appalachian) identity were fantastic and really spoke to Dolly’s influence in these spheres, this is still a text that largely speaks to the experiences of white women. . Is this one on your radar? . . . Image description: photo of a bookshelf, three levels, at @brazosbookstore on which one of the books is the one reviewed in this post.

  16. 5 out of 5

    MargaretDH

    If you're looking for a biography of Dolly Parton, don't pick this up. But I was looking for an examination of the intersection of class and gender viewed through the lens of Dolly Parton's life and career, and that's what Smarsh gave me, and it was really good. If I have a complaint, I suppose it's that I wish this was a little longer. Smarsh printed this work as a four part magazine series in 2017, and contextualized or updated a few things for this 2020 book. Examining her early life and extre If you're looking for a biography of Dolly Parton, don't pick this up. But I was looking for an examination of the intersection of class and gender viewed through the lens of Dolly Parton's life and career, and that's what Smarsh gave me, and it was really good. If I have a complaint, I suppose it's that I wish this was a little longer. Smarsh printed this work as a four part magazine series in 2017, and contextualized or updated a few things for this 2020 book. Examining her early life and extremely long career, Smarsh examines Dolly's life through the lens of the experience of white poor and working class American women. She talks about the tropes Parton has embraced and subverted, the ways in which she's built her own empire (did you know she has her own recording label?), and how she's changed the game for other women. This was fascinating, and if you're interested in pop culture depictions of women's sexuality, intersectional feminism, and the ways in which Dolly Parton is a pretty cool lady, you should probably pick this up.

  17. 4 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    A journalistic look into Parton’s life and career while paralleling the lives of women in Smarsh’s rural Kansas family. Dolly has long lived a feminist life; always going her own way, staying true to herself and her east Tennessee roots. Proving her worth, singing about difficult topics, dressing how she pleases, and keeping her chin up. This isn’t just about Dolly, but about all women. Smarsh is thoughtful in her analyses. Loved it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Dave

    "She Come By It Natural" is an intellectualized fourth wave feminist critique of Parton's songs and portions of Parton's life. It reads like a graduate student's essay and, instead of talking about how Parton has overcome sexism and become a treasured national figure and a powerful woman who leads by example, is filled with virtue signaling of the worst kind. Not recommended. "She Come By It Natural" is an intellectualized fourth wave feminist critique of Parton's songs and portions of Parton's life. It reads like a graduate student's essay and, instead of talking about how Parton has overcome sexism and become a treasured national figure and a powerful woman who leads by example, is filled with virtue signaling of the worst kind. Not recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Awallens

    This book was great. I read it in a five hour span of time. But as a woman with a disability I am tired of being left out of the narrative. She talked about pretty much every other marginalized group, but not disability.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Elsa K

    If you are looking for a book about Dolly Parton’s life and the impact she has made, this is not it. If you are looking for a book that takes radical feminist theories and in a very biased way applies them to Dolly Parton, then this is for you. I personally only finished it so I felt justified to write a review about it. This was one of the worst books I have read in a long time. I found the writing sloppy and in desperate need of editing. I am shocked and appalled that this book is winning awar If you are looking for a book about Dolly Parton’s life and the impact she has made, this is not it. If you are looking for a book that takes radical feminist theories and in a very biased way applies them to Dolly Parton, then this is for you. I personally only finished it so I felt justified to write a review about it. This was one of the worst books I have read in a long time. I found the writing sloppy and in desperate need of editing. I am shocked and appalled that this book is winning awards and making booklists. This book started as magazine entries and it should have stayed that way. The author could have shared her opinions and made her case that Dolly Parton represents the modern feminist movement. Instead, the author rambled on-mostly about her own life experiences and that of her grandmother while only quoting aspects of Dolly Parton’s life from her autobiography written in the 90s. Honestly, these snippets from Dolly’s autobiography were the only parts of the book I found remotely interesting. Dolly Parton is on record as saying she is not a feminist and never publicly shares her political views, but the author somehow thinks she knows what Dolly would do or say? There were no interviews or any actual new information. I wonder what Dolly would think about this book. Even if the author’s argument is correct, she bases it on highly biased assumptions that actually cause her case to be weaker. The author takes an extreme political stance but does not support her claims with statistics, research etc. She is very biased in her assumptions but comes across as if you disagree with her on any point that you are backward and ignorant. Multiple times she claims that marriage is a misogynistic and patriarchal institution. There is no explanation or understanding that in all periods of history, women and children are more protected in stable monogamous relationships. Or how those who are married generally live longer, are healthier and claim to have higher levels of satisfaction. The way she describes marriage is a woman barefoot in the kitchen unhappily slaving over her husband’s meals. She puts down almost any woman who makes different decisions than she did. She also laments the lateness of the Roe v. Wade decision and all the poor women who could have benefited from it! Again- no mention of all the research on women struggling with the choice of abortion after it has been made or the babies that are killed in the act of abortion. She mostly uses Dolly Parton’s life as a springboard to share her political views. In one particularly frustrating part, she is talking about Dolly’s religious faith and the resurrection of Jesus. She makes the case that the only reason Peter in the Bible does not believe that Jesus was raised from the dead was that Mary was the one who first made the claim. Of course- Peter is just another misogynist who would not trust a woman’s opinion. There is no thought that almost anyone would struggle (and many still do!) with the idea that a friend was publicly killed and then resurrected. She also inaccurately calls Mary an apostle- which any editor with basic Biblical knowledge should have caught. All in all, I found this book a biased political and feminist ranting under the guise of having anything to do with Dolly Parton’s interesting life.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jodie

    If only I could give this "book" zero stars. This is actually a feminist treatise in which the author relates an outline of Dolly Parton's life as the definition of feminism, when in actuality, Dolly Parton's life is a testament of avoiding what feminism (or at least Sarah Smarsh's version) is all about: victimhood. She spends so much time flinging around woke catchphrases and attributing Hillary Clinton's presidential election loss to the patriarchy and never once reflects on the fact that cons If only I could give this "book" zero stars. This is actually a feminist treatise in which the author relates an outline of Dolly Parton's life as the definition of feminism, when in actuality, Dolly Parton's life is a testament of avoiding what feminism (or at least Sarah Smarsh's version) is all about: victimhood. She spends so much time flinging around woke catchphrases and attributing Hillary Clinton's presidential election loss to the patriarchy and never once reflects on the fact that constantly viewing yourself as the victim never allows you to be the victor. The author throws up allegations against Donald Trump, but never affords the same to Hillary Clinton. She bemoans the supposed step back that women have taken in country music as once again being squashed by the patriarchy, despite providing details on studies that have revealed that WOMEN PREFER MALE COUNTRY SINGERS. I enjoyed the portions that actually focused on Dolly Parton and the obstacles she overcame to be the legend she is today. They were well written and informative; sadly though, they were completely obscured by the agenda of the author.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Darcy

    There is something about Dolly that you can't help but to love. I remember the joke she was in the 80's, loved watching 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when they his cable tv, I would always stop to watch them, then came Steel Magnolias, which I can't even count how many times I've watched. I can't say that I've ever sat down and listened to an album of Dolly's I know a lot of her songs. I love how honest she is about so many things. It was only in the later years that I learned h There is something about Dolly that you can't help but to love. I remember the joke she was in the 80's, loved watching 9 to 5 and The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas when they his cable tv, I would always stop to watch them, then came Steel Magnolias, which I can't even count how many times I've watched. I can't say that I've ever sat down and listened to an album of Dolly's I know a lot of her songs. I love how honest she is about so many things. It was only in the later years that I learned how "good" Dolly is too, with her giving kids books to build their own library, to her helping out people in her community that were hurt by a big fire. Now anytime I get the chance to see her speak on-line I'll watch the clips. So when this book popped up at my library it was a no brainer to request it. After listening to it, it reinforced all the things I believed about Dolly and more.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J Earl

    She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh is a book that would have been interesting had it chosen a direction and actually followed it. Instead, it was just a jumble of facts, observations, a few connecting links, and a lot of self-congratulatory back patting (I hope she didn't hurt her shoulder patting herself on the back so much). I had such high hopes for this when I read the book description. As someone who has taught Women's Studies courses I ant She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh is a book that would have been interesting had it chosen a direction and actually followed it. Instead, it was just a jumble of facts, observations, a few connecting links, and a lot of self-congratulatory back patting (I hope she didn't hurt her shoulder patting herself on the back so much). I had such high hopes for this when I read the book description. As someone who has taught Women's Studies courses I anticipated something with some substance to it. It did not take long for me to realize this was not what the description implied but rather a poorly constructed series of articles that touched on the ideas but made no larger coherent argument. It isn't a bad book and as separate articles in a periodical, where rigorous construction is less important, they may well have been quite interesting. But not in this form. Smarsh gives the impression early in the book, and repeats it often, that Parton was considered just some dumb woman until recently. I can understand someone who didn't live through most of Parton's career thinking it wasn't until her generation came of age that Parton finally got the credit she deserved. But it is simply not true, at least not to the extent she implies. I remember quite distinctly in the late 80s and early 90s having discussions, both with friends of mine and in classes I both took and taught, about how savvy Parton was and how she did what she did on her own terms, or at least as close to her own terms as a male-centric industry would (often unknowingly) allow. So it wasn't just recently that she had been valued by people both outside the country music world and outside the music world entirely. Yes, she has still had to battle the prevailing male privilege and so has never likely received all of the credit she deserves, but among the part of society that sees talent and ability as gender neutral (or at least tries to as much as anyone raised in this society can) she has received credit for about three decades. That bit of overstatement colored the rest of the book for me, weak hyperbole bothers me. But I still looked forward to reading all of the accounts of these women who lived Parton's songs. Well, Smarsh basically used herself and her family with some short anecdotes from other women scattered throughout. Again, I was expecting this very interesting point to be made through plenty of examples, and not primarily through a writer who, as the occasion seems to fit, walks on both sides of the privileged and the underprivileged line. I guess what it comes down to for me is that I found the authorial voice weak, the argument disjointed (and it is an argument I agree with, which makes it doubly annoying), and the work to be more memoirish than about either Parton's songwriting and performance or the lives of very many of the women who likely fit the description of the title. I don't recommend this for readers who actually want something organized or actually sociological in nature. For those who just want a light fluffy piece that couples Parton's work with a few people Smarsh has known or talked to, this will be a fun read. It isn't poorly written, just poorly organized and argued. Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.

  24. 4 out of 5

    CarolineFromConcord

    I have admired Sarah Smarsh's memoir *Heartland,* her wisdom in the *Guardian* on bridging political differences, and her tweets. Her insights into growing up poor in rural Kansas and the strength it took to make a better life for herself opened my eyes about a large segment of America, and I will always be grateful. Her new book left me with a different feeling. It provides a lot of intriguing information about country singer and cultural phenomenon Dolly Parton as a natural feminist but is neve I have admired Sarah Smarsh's memoir *Heartland,* her wisdom in the *Guardian* on bridging political differences, and her tweets. Her insights into growing up poor in rural Kansas and the strength it took to make a better life for herself opened my eyes about a large segment of America, and I will always be grateful. Her new book left me with a different feeling. It provides a lot of intriguing information about country singer and cultural phenomenon Dolly Parton as a natural feminist but is nevertheless not ready for prime time. It was created out of a series of six magazine essays written four years ago. Though Smarsh says she reworked it, it doesn't hang together well and is very repetitious. Moreover, the author's speculations about what Parton must have felt in a certain circumstance -- or what radio songs her band might have listened to on their first bus trip as an independent entity -- don't work for me. I get that Smarsh is speaking from a platform of What Parton Means to Women Like Me, but rather than imagining things, she should have asked Parton herself and the still-living people on that bus. So for me, the biggest problem with the book is that it's all about a living person who is never interviewed. She is present only secondhand, from things she wrote in the past or from interviews she gave to other people. For sure, Smarsh's interviews would have had different questions and elicited different answers. I came away with an appreciation of Parton's strong, independent character, her generosity, and her deliberate creation of a trashy look to take that away from the many people who disparage her. I also developed a different understanding of Smarsh. Whereas her own feminism seems to support all sorts of women, she ridicules college-educated women who chose homemaking and child rearing over a paid workplace. Putting down one group like that seems inconsistent, and I admit it made me feel defensive about a chunk of my life. Feminists should not put down other women's choices except in the case of a woman who is deliberately blocking other women's development -- a phenomenon I never experienced among stay-at-home moms but only in workplaces. As far as recommendations go, I suggest you read *Heartland.*

  25. 5 out of 5

    Lily

    This book is a delight. At 187 pocket-sized pages, it could easily be devoured in an afternoon; however, I savoured it over the course of two weeks, taking the time to look up every song/performance/interview I could on YouTube. In this way, Smarsh became my tour guide through Dolly's career, interpreting the artist's life through a sympathetic feminist lens. If I were to voice any criticisms, I'd say that sometimes Smarsh's interpretation of events is highly speculative; I could watch interview This book is a delight. At 187 pocket-sized pages, it could easily be devoured in an afternoon; however, I savoured it over the course of two weeks, taking the time to look up every song/performance/interview I could on YouTube. In this way, Smarsh became my tour guide through Dolly's career, interpreting the artist's life through a sympathetic feminist lens. If I were to voice any criticisms, I'd say that sometimes Smarsh's interpretation of events is highly speculative; I could watch interviews she referenced and come to weaker conclusions. But Smarsh centers, rather than hides, her personal connection to Dolly's work, which prevents her voice from overshadowing the content. If a feminist primer on Dolly's career sounds like your cup of tea, this book is for you.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jessi

    An interesting book that is really 4 articles from 2016/2017. It touched on Dolly's career, business acumen, and her influence on music and pop culture. It was interesting to read about how her impoverished beginnings likely affected how she views her own feminism. The author mostly compared her own family's life to that of Dolly's. I was expecting there to be more stories told, based on the subtitle of the book. That being said, it's quick and fairly interesting read. The 4th section/ article w An interesting book that is really 4 articles from 2016/2017. It touched on Dolly's career, business acumen, and her influence on music and pop culture. It was interesting to read about how her impoverished beginnings likely affected how she views her own feminism. The author mostly compared her own family's life to that of Dolly's. I was expecting there to be more stories told, based on the subtitle of the book. That being said, it's quick and fairly interesting read. The 4th section/ article was my favorite of the bunch.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I don't read a lot of non-fiction so I groaned a bit when this was my book club's January pick. But, I happily ate my words and really enjoyed Smarsh's writing. She does a great job of telling the story of feminism in the U.S. through Parton's life story. The book is fun to read while deftly covering tough topics like mysogyny, violence against women, classism and the current political climate. It's a better Hillbilly Elegy than Hillbilly Elegy. I don't read a lot of non-fiction so I groaned a bit when this was my book club's January pick. But, I happily ate my words and really enjoyed Smarsh's writing. She does a great job of telling the story of feminism in the U.S. through Parton's life story. The book is fun to read while deftly covering tough topics like mysogyny, violence against women, classism and the current political climate. It's a better Hillbilly Elegy than Hillbilly Elegy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becca Di Francesco

    I'm new to Sarah Smarsh, I'm not new to Dolly. This was such a brilliantly written, nuanced and loving read. Smarsh finds new ways (to me) to celebrate the singer. She interweaves this with her personal tale of how Dolly's music came into her life and what that means to her family of similar working class country origins with strong no shit taking women. For the full Sarah Smarsh experience, I've got Heartland up next. I'm new to Sarah Smarsh, I'm not new to Dolly. This was such a brilliantly written, nuanced and loving read. Smarsh finds new ways (to me) to celebrate the singer. She interweaves this with her personal tale of how Dolly's music came into her life and what that means to her family of similar working class country origins with strong no shit taking women. For the full Sarah Smarsh experience, I've got Heartland up next.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ietrio

    The text in itself is rather uninteresting. But the story behind the story is much more interesting. Parton, who worked day and night to gain what she has. And Smarsh who probably boozed hard for a mediocre diploma. One is active well in her 70s and she is making a difference for women all over the world. Another one is still a sharecropper in the field of journalism and she is barely able to help herself. A sad, but useful contrast for the new generation: whom would you follow?

  30. 4 out of 5

    Susan

    This book, which collects and slightly updates the author's 2016 articles for the No Depression magazine, claims that Dolly Parton, and the low-income country women of Smarsh's family, are the real feminists, using their wits, bodies and whatever other strengths to have to make it in a man's world. I don't quite buy the argument, and I don't care for Smarsh's not very subtle attacks on middle-class white feminists who apparently are all talk and theory but haven't really lived a genuine life eno This book, which collects and slightly updates the author's 2016 articles for the No Depression magazine, claims that Dolly Parton, and the low-income country women of Smarsh's family, are the real feminists, using their wits, bodies and whatever other strengths to have to make it in a man's world. I don't quite buy the argument, and I don't care for Smarsh's not very subtle attacks on middle-class white feminists who apparently are all talk and theory but haven't really lived a genuine life enough to be counted. Really, do we still have to pit one group of women against each other? Can't we just appreciate what all women have endured and survived without turning it into a class war? As for the biographical sections about Dolly Parton, you can find better in other books. I don't really care whether Dolly calls herself a feminist or not, I care that she is amazing and her actions have demonstrated that she is generous and open-minded. I haven't read Smarsh's breakout book Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, but if it's more of the same us-against-them polemic, I'll continue to give it a pass.

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