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

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3.82  ·  Rating details ·  4,998 ratings  ·  891 reviews
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 amon ...more
Hardcover, 208 pages
Published October 13th 2020 by Scribner
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Average rating 3.82  · 
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 ·  4,998 ratings  ·  891 reviews


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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
...more
JanB
Jan 06, 2021 rated it liked it
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
...more
Holly
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing
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,
...more
Darla
Oct 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, nonfiction
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
Jacob Proffitt
Dec 24, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I had high hopes for this from the forward. Smarsh mentions Parton's grace and contrasts it to today's political climate that is so hateful. So I hoped this would show me the feminism she finds in Parton's work and words. Because one of the things I like about Dolly Parton is how generous she is, how antithetical to hate, and how she does her best to steer clear of politics by keeping her remarks personal and full of love and encouragement.

Since Parton explicitly denies being a "feminist" (as s
...more
Mara
Jun 07, 2021 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed the way that this interwove Dolly Parton's biography with her broader cultural significance, how cultural forces shaped her life, and personal essay elements from the author's family to reflect on how Dolly's life represents so many women who have grown up in rural American poverty. This warmed my heart ...more
Vonda
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
Toria (some what in hiatus)
Jun 08, 2022 rated it really liked it
While I'm not a huge fan with Dolly Parton, with listening to a lot of her music and so on. I've always found her fascinating and like a kind person. Decided to pick this one up and I'm very glad I'm did. More intriguing than I thought it would be ...more
Elsa K
Feb 04, 2021 rated it did not like it
Shelves: audiobook
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 ...more
Clif Hostetler
Jan 29, 2021 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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
...more
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 ...more
Rennie
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
Read-n-Bloom
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
Meredith
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
...more
Bill
Dolly’s music and life contained what I wanted to say about class, gender, and my female forebears: That country music by women was the formative feminist text of my life.

I have my own modest history with Dolly Parton, beginning with faint memories of her singing on The Porter Waggoner Show that I caught on TV in the 1960s growing up in Iowa, and on through her impressive performances in 9 to 5 and Steel Magnolias. This collection of four long-form magazine pieces filled in a good overview of he
...more
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. ...more
Jodie
Feb 04, 2021 rated it did not like it
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
...more
Sage
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
...more
MargaretDH
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
...more
Nursebookie
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!
TL
Feb 16, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*Overdrive app*
Narrator (the author): 4 stars 🌟🤩

Very interesting view on things
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
...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
...more
britt_brooke
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!
Awallens
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.
CarolineFromConcord
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
...more
Darcy
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
Lily
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
TimInCalifornia
Jun 05, 2021 rated it really liked it
This was a smart and touching book. Smarsh has one foot planted in the world of working-class and poor women and one foot planted in the world of college-educated feminists, the so-called 'liberal elite'. From this vantage point, she acts as a translator of Parton's songs and life. As Smarsh points out, Parton strove for equality as a female singer, songwriter, and performer in Nashville where the decision-making is dominated by men. And she did it wielding an ultra-feminine persona, cultivating ...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,...
213 likes · 95 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.” 4 likes
“There's a powerful wisdom in just leaving the bullshit for someone else to fix.” 3 likes
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