Dolly Parton and Jann Arden are two women I would definitely love to have as girlfriends—BFFs. They’re smart, talented, generous, kind, and funny. I’ve just finished reading two books: She Come By It Natural about Dolly Parton written by Sarah Smarsh, and If I Knew Then by Jann Arden.
She Come By It Natural by Sarah Smarsh is basically a fan letter from one country girl to another. It’s not a full biography of Dolly Parton but rather an homage to the life and music of Parton. Smarsh is an unabashed admirer of Parton and shares a common poor, rural upbringing. She defends and explains Parton’s ‘white trash’ presentation. Even though Parton claims she is not a feminist, she lives the life. “This signature Parton trifecta—eyebrow-raising tight clothes, generosity of heart, and a take-no-crap attitude—is an overlooked, unnamed sort of feminism I recognize in the hard-luck women who raised me.” The author describes the pain endured by poor women as a strength and as sung by such famous singers as Parton, Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, and Loretta Lynn as a way of coping with life.
Not only is Parton loved and revered for her musical history, but her sense of community and generosity over the years have left the world a slightly better place. Not only does her commercially successful DollyWood theme park provide employment for thousands of people in her native Wagoner Tennessee, but she has created a foundation and literacy project that has endowed millions of children with books they might not have otherwise been able to own. Imagination Library is a program that regularly mails books to children, starting with The Little Engine That Could. Parton also contributes huge amounts of time and money to local causes for which she expects and receives little to no recognition.
Jann Arden’s If I Knew Then, Finding wisdom in failure and power in ageing is a positive affirmation. If you have read any of Arden’s earlier books, including her most recent, Feeding My Mother, then you already know she is intelligent, articulate and funny. At slightly more than two hundred pages, her newest book is a fast read and definitely worthwhile. She echoes so many of the thoughts and perceptions those of us over fifty have discovered as we’ve progressed along life’s path. Very often, in reading the book, I found myself muttering, “That’s so true”, or “I know exactly what you mean”, or “You’re so right”. I don’t want to give too much away, but we’re on the same page on many things:
- Her father died on her mother’s birthday. My mother died on my father’s birthday.
- Being young is not as wonderful as being old.
- It’s OK, in fact, probably better for your well-being to not watch all the hideous things going on in the world on the news every day.
- Planning is not the only way forward in life.
- Failure is productive and worthwhile.
There are so many bon mots I can’t being to count them. I bookmarked dozens of pages. Even though Jann Arden is on the younger end of the baby boom spectrum, boomers will find plenty to relate to in If I Knew Then. She is a wise, smart and funny lady. Read her book and soak up some of her wisdom, the biggest benefit of aging. You’ll be glad you did.
If you are unable to obtain SHE COME BY IT NATURAL by Sarah Smarsh, or, IF I KNEW THEN by Jann Arden from your local bookstore or library, click on the image of the book above to order from Amazon. Disclosure: If you order from this link I may receive a teeny, tiny commission. Thanks for your support.