She Come By It Natural [Book Review]

October 13, 2020

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh

She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh (cover) Image: a black and white picture of Dolly Parton strumming her banjo

Genre/Categories: Non Fiction, Biographical, Music, Feminism

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links.


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.

My Thoughts:

How do expectations affect your reading experience?

Expectations: Perhaps if I had approached, She Come By It Natural with different expectations, it might have enhanced my reading experience. I greatly admire Dolly Parton as a singer/songwriter, business woman, a philanthropist, and a promoter of literacy. I love that she quietly goes about the important job of seriously making a difference in her sphere of influence.

Dolly Parton reading to three children
Image Source: Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

In her music career, she confidently and assertively negotiated for what she wanted in a male-dominated industry. Distracted by her looks, the men seriously underestimated her! You might be interested in Dolly Parton’s autobiography. Even though She Come By It Natural is shelved as biography, it’s more agenda driven than biographical (in my humble opinion). She Come By It Natural uses information from a previously published work plus examples from the author’s grandmother to write about feminism. This is interesting because Parton has not associated herself with a feminist agenda or called herself a feminist. It concerns me that the author might be attempting to speak for Parton. Definitely, though, Parton represents women who are unrecognized pioneers in the struggle for equality.

When I requested this book, I didn’t fully understand the focus of the book. This is a case of the cover and title made me do it! She Come By It Natural comes across (to me) as a book that uses Parton as an example to support an agenda rather than a book about Parton. If I had wanted to read a book with a feminist agenda, this might have worked better for me.

What Worked: I appreciate reflecting on how Dolly spoke directly to struggling women through her lyrics, how a generation of women with little voice found theirs in Dolly’s songs, and how she maneuvered through a male-dominated industry without the benefit of a Women’s Movement.

TL;DR: If you’re interested in a biography of Dolly Parton, this might not be what you’re looking for. If you’re interested in a book about feminism with Parton as an example, this might a good read for you.

Recommended? I’m giving this 2.5-3 Stars which is certainly in the “mixed bag” category. Others have loved it, so I urge you to seek out other reviews to inform your reading decision. I’m simply offering one perspective.  Certainly, She Come By It Natural might appeal to Dolly Parton fans.

My Rating: 3 Stars


She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh (cover) Image: a black and white photo of Dolly Parton strumming a banjo

She Come By It Natural Information Here

Meet the Author, Sarah Smarsh

Author Sarah Smarsh

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 speaker and commentator on economic inequality.


Is She Come By It Natural on your TBR or have you read it?

Are you a Dolly Parton fan?

Do expectations ever affect your reading experience?

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  1. This one was a mixed bag for me too. I loved hearing more about what Dolly’s done and doing and the context she put it into — so why Dolly has been quietly revolutionary based on her background. But having read Smarsh’s memoir, it wasn’t as illuminating to get the personal family stories here, and I didn’t find they fit as well with the points she was making about Dolly. But I liked what I learned about her, so it was worth it for that. As you point out, good to know what it is going into it. Great review!

  2. I’ve always seen her around throughout my life but never looked into her life or what she was doing exactly. This one sounds interesting. A bit sad that the author might have tried to stick a certain agenda to her person when she never claimed to be any of that… Great review! 😀

    • Thanks Lashaan! The more I hear about Dolly Parton the more I admire her. Two examples: 1. she created Her own theme park specifically for people suffering from poverty in the area she grew up so they would have jobs….2. she’s given away tons of books through her literacy program….parents can register their newborns and then Dolly’s organization will send them a book every year on their birthday for 5 years. During the early months of the pandemic she got online and read books aloud for children because libraries were closed. There’s a documentary on her that’s very well done. It’s hilarious that she purposefully used her looks to distract men so that she had the advantage in business deals! She’s an interesting person for sure!!!

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