I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive: On Trauma, Persistence, and Dolly Parton


Product Details

$26.95  $25.06
University of Texas Press
Publish Date
5.84 X 8.77 X 1.04 inches | 1.11 pounds

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About the Author

Lynn Melnick is the author of three books of poetry and a contributor to Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture. Her poems have appeared in the New Republic, the New Yorker, and the Paris Review; her essays have appeared in Jewish Currents, LA Review of Books, and Poetry Daily. Born in Indianapolis, she grew up in Los Angeles and currently lives in Brooklyn.


This book revels unabashedly in the turmoil of both women's lives. Like Dolly's voice, Melnick's tone is casual and joyous, yet still defiant, cogently seeking commonality between its two subjects and showing how she and Parton have each performed their womanliness--and all its concomitant mess...Carefully researched and at times uncomfortably honest, I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive also avoids hagiography and handles the problematic aspects of Dolly better than most...I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive is, at core, about the Appalachian skill of 'always being aware of the terrible' while steadfastly and laughingly avoiding its grip.-- "The Georgia Review" (11/1/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Melnick lovingly chronicles how Parton's expansive songwriting catalog and her six decades as a household icon have been inextricable from Melnick's own journey from a Jewish teenage addict to an accomplished artist.-- "Lilith" (11/22/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Each chapter in [I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive] glances at the author's life through a different song penned by Parton. [Melnick] deals with past trauma by analogizing her own life to the country legend's. Although Melnick and Parton didn't seem to have much more in common on the surface, discovering their similarities is at the center of this moving journey.-- "The Boot, "10 Best Country Music Books of 2022"" (12/6/2022 12:00:00 AM)
A riveting blend of cultural criticism and memoir...In her quest to 'be more Dollylike, rising again and again from the embers of expectation, ' Melnick offers a gorgeous story of survival and self-discovery. Die-hard Dolly fans won't want to miss this.-- "Publishers Weekly, starred review" (6/16/2022 12:00:00 AM)
Melnick's book is about the author's vicarious, identity-forming relationship with a cultural figure. Each of its 21 chapters is organized around a particular song, so we learn everything she was able to find out about how Dolly...wrote or recorded that song, what the press said about it, and what the artist herself said about it in interviews and talk show appearances. Moreover, each chapter delves into what the title song means in Melnick's life and what it says about related cultural issues. In that way, it's a blend of memoir and cultural criticism, as well as a wealth of information.-- "Chapter 16" (1/10/2023 12:00:00 AM)
Discarding the societal demand to keep quiet about her own trauma, Melnick structures the book as an inquiry into the music of Dolly Parton that 'unmired' her when she first found herself in a drug rehab program as a teenager in the 1980s. It's Dolly Parton's music that offers transcendence in Melnick's life from then on, and she scrutinizes Dolly's songs and their personal and cultural impact in a mixture of biography, critical investigation, music journalism, social history, and invocation. 'It's a refusal of secrets, ' Melnick writes in the final chapter about a song that Dolly is singing, but this is also a perfect summation of her book.-- "BOMB Magazine" (11/2/2022 12:00:00 AM)
There is rich texture in the details Melnick shares of her life, which she weaves into Parton's history and the backstory of each song, with Parton's hardships and struggles as much an inspiration to Melnick as the star's thrilling success...This is absolutely the book for any Dolly Parton fan, full of anecdotes and intricate history of The Leading Lady of Country. It was empowering and inspiring to read the stories of these women (Parton and Melnick) and to know they have made something of the ashes left when others lit a match.-- "Southern Review of Books" (11/4/2022 12:00:00 AM)

I've Had to Think Up a Way to Survive is more than an artful memoir; it is thought-provoking cultural analysis of a beloved icon whose relevance endures.

-- "BookPage" (9/21/2022 12:00:00 AM)

[Melnick] writes with remarkable vulnerability and candor yet ensures that the often-painful memories she relates don't cloud her critical gaze. She moves gracefully between confessional and analytical registers, her prose both sharp and full of heart.

-- "The Atlantic" (9/26/2022 12:00:00 AM)