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Publisher's Summary

In this Time Top 100 Book of the Year, the National Book Award finalist and New York Times best-selling author of Heartland “analyzes how Dolly Parton’s songs - and success - have embodied feminism for working-class women” (People).

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.

In this “tribute to the woman who continues to demonstrate that feminism comes in coats of many colors,” Smarsh tells listeners how Parton’s songs 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 self-made mogul of business and philanthropy - offers a springboard to examining the intersections of gender, class, and culture.

Infused with Smarsh’s trademark insight, intelligence, and humanity, this is “an ambitious book” (The New Republic) about the icon Dolly Parton and an “in-depth examination into gender and class and what it means to be a woman and a working-class hero that feels particularly important right now” (Refinery29).

©2020 Sarah Smarsh. All rights reserved. (P)2020 Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved

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Sarah Smarsh's Life in Dolly Parton Songs

I'd already read Sarah Smarsh's "Heartland" and enjoyed it. It was the liberal version of "Hillbilly Elegy." I like hearing both sides of a story. However, I bought this audiobook to hear about Dolly Parton and women who lived her songs (as it was titled). While this book is about Dolly, it seems more about how Dolly's life lessons or songs apply to Smarsh's life. Parts of this book were kind of a repeat of "Heartland." Contextually, I think it works - especially if you did not read "Heartland" - but perhaps it should have a different title.

I enjoyed Smarsh's narration but unfortunately her politics shine through, alienating some of her readers. Instead of sexism being a problem that unites all women, she creates more division by expressing contempt for conservative politicians and conservative values. Again, perhaps the book should have a different title.

I wanted to like this book but lost interest and did not finish. Not for me. Will recommend to my liberal friends.

9 people found this helpful

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So Real That Dolly Would Love It

As a white suburban guy who is a lifetime Dolly fan, I was overjoyed how this book gave me so many completely new insights into the artist and the women she has long represented .Neither an academic approach nor a hagiography, this book told a story with all the love, understanding and compassion of a Dolly song. Excellent work

2 people found this helpful

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A must read

Whether you’re country or city, Red or Blue, you have to read this immediately. You’re gonna find out a lot about this often unappreciated individual. She’s a star in a lot of ways.

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too much politics

The story does not live up to the expectations of the title . Quickly i determined was focused on the authors own political beliefs. Gave up listening which is rare for me.

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This isn't just Dolly's story!

it's OUR story! It's a beautiful tribute to the smart (even if some are lacking in education) hard working, family loving women who have made this country great!

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wonderful. world making.

This is a wonderful read from Sarah Smarsh. This book reads like home if you have any hook into Parton's (and one could also say Smarsh's) story. Insightful, informative, and has helped me better orient myself in the world as a young woman. Thank you.

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Must read

Smarsh offers a warm, thoughtful, and much needed look at feminism and it’s continued clash with class and social justice. Brilliant! Thank you for this book.

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Contrast

So Dolly’s iconic life is explored historically by a young lady growing up. What a beautiful contrast to consider. The research and narration was really interesting and kept me listening and wanting even more. Not only is this a tribute to Dolly but also a story for overcoming poverty. Great listen I will recommend.

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Recommended for Anyone: Fans & Non-Fans Alike

I don't know much about Dolly Parton -- "Jolene" and a handful of other songs, a couple film roles -- but I know that people of all ages, cultures, backgrounds, and income brackets adore her and wanted to understand why, This short, engaging book explores the "current Dolly fervor," asking, "Why now?" then goes on to explore several compelling themes: the myth of Dolly and the woman behind the persona; the lives, experiences, choices, and opportunities afforded to working women, including the author and her own family; academic ideas of "Wild Women" archetype versus the women inspire that idea; and much more. It's part biography, part memoir, part academic treatise, but always accessible, absorbing, and fun.

Sarah Smarsh reads the work herself, and does an beautiful job: she's clear and consistent and her voice is lovely and warm. I look forward to listening to it again, and to reading Smarsh's first book, Heartland.

A couple choice lines (there are myriad) to give you an idea of the material, which covers Dolly's story but so much more:

"For the poor woman, there is much less social, economic, or cultural capital for changing a situation from the inside. But she might have a car and a bit of money for gas, which is enough to leave a situation behind."

"There is, then, intellectual knowledge -- the stuff of research studies and think pieces -- and there is experiential knowing. Both are important, and women from all backgrounds might possess both. But we rarely exalt the knowing, which is the only kind of feminism many working women have."

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LOVE DOLLY AND WE THIS BOOK!

How can you not love Dolly Parton? She is the embodiment of a strong, smart, & kind woman with a career in an industry that didn’t always treat her as such. Sarah Smarsh narrates her own work masterfully and truly brings Dolly to life. Smarsh’s writing is provocative yet down to earth and her accounts of her own experiences are relevant and interjected well throughout the narrative. I would recommend this audible selection over and over again, WELL DONE!