SHE COME BY IT NATURAL: DOLLY PARTON AND THE WOMEN WHO LIVED HER SONGS - SARAH SMARSH BOOK REVIEW
Over the past few years, my, and it seems the general public's opinions of Dolly Parton have gone beyond knowing her to be a blonde bimbo to seeing her as a smart, philanthropic musical icon, especially after her Imagination Library success and the fact she funded a successful COVID-19 vaccine. She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh shows that Dolly Parton is a huge cultural influence, and teaches you all about the bits of Dolly Parton you may not have heard about before.
The book started out as separate articles which becomes quite clear as you read. This makes the book easier to read than many other books which analyse the impact musicians have on culture, as all the important parts are cut down into bitesize and digestible chunks that give you the chance to think before entering into a new discussion and argument.
She Come By It Natural is a book simultaneously about Dolly Parton, but also women like Dolly Parton. It tells the story of everyone's favourite kind-hearted country star and the struggles she went through but also comments on the fact she was not the only one who went through these struggles and how she represents a wider group of women who may not be at the forefront of feminism, but are strong women in their own way.
That's essentially the argument that's made throughout this analysis, that the small acts of feminism made by working-class women in the misogyny-filled world of poor middle-America are just as impactful and important as academic feminist papers and marches going ahead in cities across the globe. Dolly Parton acts as an inspiration and voice for those women, which is why her place in social issues can feel a bit lacking compared to other women in the industry now.
What's especially great about Smarsh's book, is that it feels personal. Smarsh and the women before her lived the life that Dolly did and describe throughout her songs, and that gives the writing a new level of understanding and realisation. Dolly is important to Smarsh, which allows for the constructive criticism to truly feel like it's coming from a place of love, rather than just attacking a woman who has spent years being underestimated.
You learn all sorts of things about Parton that really widen the picture of her, and what she represents. For example, did you know that Dolly Parton's set at Glastonbury drew the biggest crowd the festival had ever seen for a performer? 180,000 people turned up at the stage to see Parton perform her greatest hits. Why is that? How did Parton draw such a crowd 1) in a country that is not her primary audience and 2) a festival she wasn't even headlining? That's exactly the type of question, and more, that Smarsh tries to answer.
If you're a fan of Dolly, and want to know more about the impact she's had, or (arguably more importantly) if you're not a fan of Parton, then this book is absolutely worth a read. It gets to the heart of the woman who has more heart than anyone, and does it in a way that isn't intimidating or complicated, which ironically, is what Dolly Parton herself does with feminism.