Since starting my Dolly Parton project a few years ago, I have been an avid reader of all things related to the Queen of Country herself. Many of these books are worth recommending so I thought I would write a post grouping these into categories to help the average reader choose what might be best suited to their reading taste!
Books by Dolly
‘Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business’
Dolly’s original biography, published in 1994 is the definitive look into her early life and rise to fame. It includes many interesting anecdotes and many of the aphorisms and advice that Dolly has become famous for. The book is now out of print in the UK, although it can be found secondhand for quite reasonable prices.
‘Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You’
The origin of this book was a graduation speech which Dolly delivered at the University of Tennessee. She expanded that speech into a short book of empowering advice which covers everything from relationships to the importance of reading (as I discussed in more detail in my earlier post on this book).
‘Songteller – My Life in Lyrics’
One of the best books Dolly has been involved in is her recent ‘Songteller’ coffee table book. Here she shares lyrics from her most important songs, with Dolly giving us some context into the writing process. The book is filled with stunning illustrations and pictures, making this a really beautiful gift (for yourself).
If you have small children you may be interested in the picture book Dolly released, which is an illustrated version of her song. The illustrations by Brooke Boynton-Hughes are sweet and bring some colour to Dolly’s tale of bullying and poverty. Look out for Dolly’s next picture book ‘Billy the Kid Makes it Big’ coming in 2023.
Released earlier this year was Dolly’s novel ‘Run Rose Run’, written in collaboration with James Patterson (and his ghost writers). How much of Dolly’s ideas or writing went into this book is hard to say but if you like an escapist thriller set in the country music industry then this one is a fun waste of time.
General Interest Books About Dolly
‘Not Dumb, Not Blonde: Dolly in Conversation’ AKA ‘Dolly on Dolly’ Edited by Randy L. Schmidt
One of the most useful and interesting Dolly books is this collection of interviews, spanning across her whole career. You can trace the development of her public persona through the decades, while also being astounded at the audacity of some of the journalist questions she has had to put up with (the Playboy interview being the worst).
‘Smart Blonde’ by Stephen Miller
This unauthorised biography takes a comprehensive look across Dolly’s career, using interviews with many of the key players in her life to give a definitive overview of how she became an icon.
‘She Came By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women who Lived Her Songs’ by Sarah Smarsh
Originally written as an essay series for No Depression, this book puts Dolly’s life and career into wider contexts of feminism, class and culture. It’s an interesting take on her mythology, making connections with the life of the writer and the development of women’s rights across the decades of Dolly’s career.
Memoirs Inspired by Dolly
‘Pilgrimage to Dollywood’ by Helen Morales
Don’t judge this one by it’s cheap and tacky cover art, since it is actually one of my favourite Dolly books. In it a British academic takes a tour through Tennessee, including stops at Loretta’s ranch and Nashville, before ending up in Pigeon Forge to experience the Dollywood magic. An illuminating assessment of the appeal of Dolly and the cultural complexity of the icon’s home state.
‘I’ve Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton’ by Lynn Melnick
One of the most recent releases on a Dolly theme is this memoir by poet Lynn Melnick. In the book she also details how a trip to Dollywood helped her, in this case dealing with the aftermath of trauma. I have not had the opportunity to read this one myself but it sounds like a really interesting and innovative take on writing about Dolly.
‘Unlikely Angel – The Songs of Dolly Parton’ by Lydia R. Hamessley
Another of my favourite books on Dolly Parton is this comprehensive assessment of her career by Hamilton College music professor Lydia R. Hamessley. Dolly herself assisted in the research of this book, answering questions about her songwriting and being an enthusiastic supporter of the work. This is one of the few books on this list which focuses directly on the music itself, exploring the wide ranging influences, styles and themes in her songwriting. An absolute must for any serious fan of Dolly’s music.
‘Dolly Parton- Gender & Country Music’ by Leigh H. Edwards
This book is a series of essays on themes such as authenticity, gender, digital fandoms and Dolly’s film career, all written by Florida State University professor Leigh H. Edwards. Tracing how Dolly has challenged stereotypes and cleverly adapted her image over time, this is a book of cultural theory and so is perhaps less accessible to the average reader but the insights offered are definitely worth the brain effort.
‘What Would Dolly Do? How to be a Diamond in a Rhinestone World’ by Lauren Marino
Part biography, part self help book this is a little fluffy for my personal taste but could be fun for the right person who wants an introduction to Dolly and how her life can be a model for self-improvement.
‘Be More Dolly’ – Life Lessons Beyond the 9-5
Another of these little self-help novelty books is ‘Be More Dolly’ which is basically the same as ‘What Would Dolly Do’ just with cute space to fill in your own reflections and goals. This book actually has one of my blog posts in their ‘Further Reading’ section so even if it is more than a little cheesy and contrived at times its heart is in the right place (just like Dolly herself, I guess!).
I will finish the list with one of my other favourites which is the little Pocket Dolly Wisdom – a book of Dolly’s best quotes and jokes in handbag size for whenever you need a little pick me up. There is also a postcard set version with gorgeous pink, yellow and silver designs which is also worth getting.
If you’re looking for a Dolly themed gift this Christmas hopefully you can find something here! I have included the Amazon links for convenience but consider your local bookseller if at all possible!
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