A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans.



A journalist and bestselling author pays tribute to country music legend Dolly Parton (b. 1946).

Before her recent elevation to the status of universally beloved icon,” writes Smarsh, Parton “was best known by many people as the punch line of a boob joke.” This book, based on essays the author wrote for No Depression magazine in 2017, explores Parton's musical and cultural contributions. It also tells stories about the women so often at the heart of Parton's songs. Bent on becoming a star, she left for Nashville after high school. But she faced many challenges as an attractive woman working her way to the top. Parton's breakthrough song, “Dumb Blonde,” released in 1967, foretold the attitude a largely sexist country music industry took toward the singer, especially in the early part of her career. Her first industry mentor, Porter Wagoner, for example, recognized Parton's musical talent, but he tried to use it to serve his own “thunderous ego.” The quick-witted grit that helped her endure would later come out in the characters she played in hit Hollywood films like 9 to 5 (1980). Smarsh argues that this "humorous bravado" arises not just from Parton herself, but from the "culture of working-class women" she represents. The singer’s savvy is also as much sexual as entrepreneurial. The author shows how Parton used both to reach success—and not just in music: She has said that Dollywood is “the most lucrative investment she ever made.” Her influence is now so pervasive that she has become a cross-genre inspiration to young artists like hip-hop star Nicki Minaj. Though not a self-identified feminist, Parton exemplifies the "unsurpassed wisdom about how gender works in the world" that Smarsh believes is part of the working-class female experience.

A highly readable treat for music and feminist scholars as well as Parton's legion of fans.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982157-28-9

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

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The Bloggess is back to survey the hazards and hilarity of imperfection.

Lawson is a wanderer. Whether on her award-winning blog or in the pages of her bestselling books, she reliably takes readers to places they weren’t even aware they wanted to go—e.g., shopping for dog condoms or witnessing what appears to be a satanic ritual. Longtime fans of the author’s prose know that the destinations really aren’t the point; it’s the laugh-out-loud, tears-streaming-down-your-face journeys that make her writing so irresistible. This book is another solid collection of humorous musings on everyday life, or at least the life of a self-described “super introvert” who has a fantastic imagination and dozens of chosen spirit animals. While Furiously Happy centered on the idea of making good mental health days exceptionally good, her latest celebrates the notion that being broken is beautiful—or at least nothing to be ashamed of. “I have managed to fuck shit up in shockingly impressive ways and still be considered a fairly acceptable person,” writes Lawson, who has made something of an art form out of awkward confessionals. For example, she chronicles a mix-up at the post office that left her with a “big ol’ sack filled with a dozen small squishy penises [with] smiley faces painted on them.” It’s not all laughs, though, as the author addresses her ongoing battle with both physical and mental illness, including a trial of transcranial magnetic stimulation, a relatively new therapy for people who suffer from treatment-resistant depression. The author’s colloquial narrative style may not suit the linear-narrative crowd, but this isn’t for them. “What we really want,” she writes, “is to know we’re not alone in our terribleness….Human foibles are what make us us, and the art of mortification is what brings us all together.” The material is fresh, but the scaffolding is the same.

Fans will find comfort in Lawson’s dependably winning mix of shameless irreverence, wicked humor, and vulnerability.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-07703-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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