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Everything is nothing if you got no education

Ideas

Everything is nothing if you got no education

Ring a bell, sort of? Dolly Parton, who has invested huge sums in education, has released a book, with an album

Sunday Times books editor
Since 1995 Dolly Parton, performing here with Linda Perry, has mailed free books to children from the time they were born until their first year of school.
GIVING Since 1995 Dolly Parton, performing here with Linda Perry, has mailed free books to children from the time they were born until their first year of school.
Image: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

My spidey senses tingle when a person says they don’t like Dolly Parton. I can understand if you are not a country fan and don’t like her music, but Ms Parton is more than just music. She is a phenomenon. 

Not only did the 11-time Grammy Award-winner donate $1m (about R15m) to help fund a Covid-19 vaccine in 2020, she has also supported other humanitarian efforts, including HIV/Aids programmes, disaster relief and cancer treatment, as well as animal rights. 

In February she launched a higher-education initiative for employees at her Smokey Mountain theme park, Dollywood. All 11,000 staff, including part-time workers, are eligible to have their tertiary tuition, textbooks and any additional fees paid by Parton. 

But what really stands out is her dedication to getting youngsters to read. She started the Dollywood Foundation in 1988 to promote children’s education. Through the initiative the Imagination Library was born in 1995. It mailed free books to children from the time they were born until their first year of school. It started in Parton’s home state, Tennessee, but has become a global programme, with her foundation having given away more than 176-million books by February. It’s not in SA yet, but you can complete a form on the website imaginationlibrary.com to see when it will become available.

It's as twee as hell, but hugely enjoyable.
It's as twee as hell, but hugely enjoyable.
Image: Supplied

It’s only fitting then that the advocate of books and reading would eventually write her own (with James Patterson’s help).

It’s called Run, Rose, Run and is so unapologetically twee one cannot help but enjoy it for what it is. The main character, Annie-Lee Keyes, hitchhikes to Nashville with only a small backpack, a grimy sleeping bag and a gun (sounds like the beginning of a country song). She sleeps in a park under big hydrangea bushes until dawn, then begins her day begging bartenders at dingy venues to allow her to sing because this is how musicians get their big break in Nashville. She does. Annie-Lee is noticed by dark, strong, handsome Ethan Blake, who plays guitar for Ruthanna Ryder, “one of country music’s grandest queens”. She becomes a star, but Annie-Lee’s dark past (it’s always the dark past) is quickly catching up with her. 

There’s plenty of country in this book: trucks, men in tight jeans, dimly lit bars, cowboy boots, rhinestones, ma’ams and songwriting. Just like Parton, Annie-Lee is a natural musician, playing tunes in her head ever since she can remember. We get glimpses into the songs she is creating. One is called Driven — “Driven to insanity, driven to the edge/Driven to the point of almost no return”.

The best part is you can listen to these songs while reading. Parton has created an album to accompany the book. I listened to it on iTunes and it made reading the offering a totally different experience. 

Every word is in Parton’s singular twang and if you want the real experience, get the audiobook, which is read by the singer and a full cast. Good golly, Ms Dolly sure knows how to write a fun read.

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