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

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  1,776 ratings  ·  357 reviews
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 pover
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 13th 2020 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.88  · 
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 ·  1,776 ratings  ·  357 reviews

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Jan 06, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2021-reads
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
Anne Bogel
Dec 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 08, 2020 rated it liked it
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. ...more
Kyra Leseberg (Roots & Reads)
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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 ...more
Sep 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 ...more
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, biography
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. ...more
Jul 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Nov 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
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!
Dec 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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!
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Aug 25, 2020 rated it did not like it
**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
"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. ...more
Nov 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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.
J Earl
Jun 15, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Nov 13, 2020 rated it liked it
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
Oct 20, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Nov 24, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: bio
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?
Oct 09, 2020 rated it liked it
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 ...more
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
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 ...more
Nov 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I love this book, the connection between Parton as legend and the women she represents. So many layers. Complex and short and I would read way more about this but this is also perfect on its own.
Dec 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
7/5 stars. New appreciation for Dolly and the women of the book
Dec 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a collection of 4 essays that were published online in 2017 and as I was reading the book I realized that I had definitely already read at least some, if not all, of them online. In her intro, Smarsh notes that she hasn't really updated these and they serve as a time capsule of 2016-7. It was interesting revisiting these since I do think the general Dollysance has only grown since then, with more people generally approving of Dolly without knowing many details about her life/music.

Oct 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
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 ...more
Mitch Karunaratne
Nov 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020
A really readable and relatable series of discussions exploring the power and legacy of Parton through the lens of class and female empowerment. It's a powerful story of the language of the working class and how Parton has used her voice to reframe the public vision of the rural poor and do so with broad, proud shoulders. Smarsh weaves in stories from her own family (her gran is the same age as Dolly) and reminds readers that there are a myriad of ways to be a woman of strength and vision, of ch ...more
Carol (Reading Ladies)
2.5-3 Stars

Thanks #NetGalley @ScribnerBooks for a complimentary e ARC of #SheComeByItNatural at my request. All opinions are my own.

Sarah Smarsh uses examples from her grandmother and facts from a previously published Dolly Parton title to reflect on the message of Parton’s songs, how Parton’s music resonated with women of Smarsh’s grandmother’s generation, and Parton’s contribution to Feminism.

How do expectations affect your reading experience?

Perhaps if I had approached, She Come By It Natural
Dec 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
In She Come By It Natural, journalist Sarah Smarsh examines the life and legacy of Dolly Parton, particularly the ways in which Parton has embodied feminism throughout her career without actually claiming the label. Smarsh connects her own working-class rural roots to Parton's, and brings that shared background to understanding Parton's timeless appeal to women like her Grandma Betty, who see their lives in Dolly and her songs, but not in mainstream, middle-class feminism. Smarsh also takes a cl ...more
John Wood
Dec 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
This little book is a jewel. I liked it so much that I am tossing it on my favorite shelf. Instead of just writing a superficial biography, the author discusses Dolly Parton's life, comparing it to her own experience growing up as a poor country girl. She discusses many problems that women face in our society, including the current political situation, Hilary Clinton, and the blatant misogyny of Donald Trump. Instead of just writing about Dolly's outward appearance and her musical prowess and ac ...more
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Sarah Smarsh is a Kansas-based journalist who has reported for The New York Times, The Guardian and many other publications. Her first book, Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth, was a finalist for the National Book Award. A 2018 research fellow at Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, Smarsh is a frequent speak ...more

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Someday, this year will end! And with the ringing in of 2021, we will come to the end of this year's Goodreads Reading Challenge. Of course,...
206 likes · 105 comments
“Maybe it’s no coincidence that Parton’s popularity seemed to surge the same year America seemed to falter. A fractured thing craves wholeness, and that’s what Dolly Parton offers—one woman who simultaneously embodies past and present, rich and poor, feminine and masculine, Jezebel and Holy Mother, the journey of getting out and the sweet return to home.” 2 likes
“Parton’s musical genius deserves a discussion far beyond and above the matters of gender and class. But the lyrics she wrote are forever tied to the body that sang them, her success forever tied to having patterned her look after the “town trollop” of her native holler. For doing so, she received a fame laced with ridicule; during interviews in the 1970s and 1980s, both Barbara Walters and Oprah Winfrey asked her to stand up so they could point out, without humor, that she looked like a tramp.” 0 likes
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