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You Love Dolly Parton’s Music, but Have You Read Her Books?

She can really do it all.

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Singer, songwriter, style icon, actress, philanthropist — these are just a few of Dolly Parton’s credentials. One of her most impressive roles, however, is one you may not know about: She is an accomplished writer. While it’s common for a musician with a career as lengthy as Dolly’s to write a memoir, her literary achievements go beyond the expected, encompassing children’s books, a cookbook, and even a recent thriller. In fact, you could devote a whole shelf to Dolly’s books (and if you’re interested in reading books about Dolly rather than by Dolly, there are a lot of those, too). 

Writing books isn’t a vanity project for Parton — literacy is a cause near and dear to her heart. In 1995, she launched Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, a program that sends free books to children around the world. Parton was inspired to start this charitable venture because her father was illiterate, and she witnessed firsthand how being unable to read impacted his life. She has since made it her mission to make books accessible to children everywhere. The Imagination Library is still going strong: To date it has donated nearly 200 million books. With all Parton has done to encourage people to read, it makes perfect sense that she’s an author herself. Here’s a guide to the fascinating array of books she’s written. 

Musical Dolly — Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics  

This gorgeous coffee table book (Buy from Amazon, $25), released in 2020 and co-written with journalist Robert K. Oermann, highlights 175 of Parton’s songs and the stories behind them. It also includes rare photos and images of memorabilia, including her handwritten lyrics. While Songteller is her first book of this kind, Parton released a poetry book titled Just the Way I Am in 1979, which drew on her songwriting. Though Just the Way I Am has since gone out of print, Songteller stands as a definitive guide to her brilliance as a songwriter. In an interview with Bustle.com, Parton said putting the book together made her “visit some places [she] thought [she’d] forgotten,” and some she “wanted to [forget].” She likened the experience to therapy — “It was a long process, but it was cathartic.” 

Inspirational Dolly — Dream More: Celebrate the Dreamer in You  

Parton is forthcoming about her early life in rural poverty. By her early twenties, however, she was a bona fide star. It’s an inspiring story, which is why it’s no surprise that in 2009, Dolly wrote about it (Buy from Amazon, $11.99). Dream More is a memoir-like collection of stories drawn from a commencement speech Parton gave at the University of Tennessee. It focuses on the four great hopes she wants people to embrace: dream more, learn more, care more, and be more. Proceeds from the sale of this short and sweet book benefit the Imagination Library. 

Autobiographical Dolly — Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business 

In 1994, Parton wrote her bestselling autobiography (Buy from Amazon, $18.97). This amusingly titled book details her difficult childhood, as well as her faith, marriage, and of course, music. She also discusses plastic surgery (something she’s always been refreshingly open about) and her larger-than-life persona. Parton is beloved for her frank humor, and this book contains plenty of it. Among its most quotable lines: “It takes a lot of time and money to look this cheap, honey.” 

Thrilling Dolly — Run, Rose, Run 

When you think of Dolly Parton, thriller novels probably aren’t the first things that come to mind. But, as she’s shown in her decades-long career, the country queen can do just about anything. Last year, that included publishing a novel titled Run, Rose, Run (Buy from Amazon, $15) that she co-wrote with popular thriller writer James Patterson. It’s an unlikely pairing with fabulous results, as it combines Patterson’s knack for fast-paced cliffhangers with Parton’s musical expertise. (The book takes place in the Nashville country music scene.) The idea for the book was Patterson’s, but Parton helped bring the story to life.  

Parton also released a companion album of the same name, so if you want the full Dolly experience, you can listen to the album while reading the book. In an interview on her website, she joked, “I had always thought that I would write novels, but I thought it would be when I was older. Then I realized I am older.”  

Kid-Friendly Dolly — Coat of Many Colors  

People of all ages can appreciate Parton’s sunny energy, which is perhaps why she’s a natural children’s book writer. Her first children’s book, Coat of Many Colors (Buy from Amazon, $11.29), was adapted from her classic song of the same name. Written in 1996 and updated with new illustrations in 2016, the book uses the lyrics of the song to tell the sweet story of a young girl whose mother sews her a coat made of rags. She’s mocked for it, but as she realizes the coat has “love in every stitch” she comes to treasure it. This simple celebration of individuality and love being more important than money makes for an uplifting, kid-friendly story. Parton dedicated the book to her mother, and the fact that childhood literacy is a personal cause makes the book’s pairing of indelible lyrics and charming illustrations particularly sweet.  

In 2009, she wrote another children’s book, I Am a Rainbow (Buy from Amazon, $22.79). This “sweet little book done in rhyme,” as Parton described it, is about the range of emotions children experience and how best to deal with them. In an interview with Time magazine, Parton said she “hope[s] to write lots and lots of children’s books through the years.” To that end, she recently announced a new picture book, Billy the Kid Makes It Big (about a dog who wants to be a country music star), to be released in March. 

Foodie Dolly — Dolly’s Dixie Fixin’s 

Parton hails from Tennessee, where there’s a rich tradition of deliciously comforting Southern food. In 2006, she released a cookbook filled with recipes (125 of them, to be exact) from all stages of her life. There are recipes from her mother and mother-in-law, as well as recipes picked up on the road and at her Dollywood theme park restaurants. Unfortunately, the book is currently out of print, but Parton’s description of the book as all about food that’s “lovingly made and joyfully served up” remains a valuable kitchen philosophy. 

If you’d like to buy a Dolly cookbook, worry not — in a recent interview with Forbes, Parton revealed she’s currently working on a new cookbook with her sister. We can’t wait to see what recipes will be included! 

Go forth and read! 

There are many wonderful Dolly books to choose from, and whether you decide to check out her lyric book, her autobiography, her thriller, or one of her other books, you’re sure to enjoy her writerly talents. 

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