This is just how important Dolly Parton thinks reading is. Every month the Imagination Library, the nonprofit, literacy organization she founded, sends books to about 700,000 children in the United States and United Kingdom. Parton has just published a book, “Dream More,” based on a commencement speech she gave at the University of Tennessee.
BOOKS: What are you reading currently?
PARTON: Recently I’ve been going back and reading a lot of the old classics, especially books that I’ve only seen the movies of, like “To Kill A Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and “Gone with the Wind” by Margaret Mitchell. I thought that was spectacular. I love having big books and that one took me quite a while to read.
BOOKS: How long have you been reading classics?
PARTON: About a year or so. If somebody hands me something new I’ll read that too. Are you familiar with Lee Smith? She’s a Southern writer who wrote “Oral History.” I’m also going back and rereading things of hers.
BOOKS: What else do you like to read?
PARTON: I love historical fiction. I’ve read all of James Michener’s books. I study a lot of religion and philosophy. I love that little book “The Shack” by William P. Young. I’m reading something all the time.
BOOKS: When did you become a voracious reader?
PARTON: I’ve always loved to read. I don’t remember not knowing how to read. I remember learning to write in school but not reading. My mother must have taught me how.
BOOKS: Is it true that your family only had one book in the house, the Bible?
PARTON: Yes. We weren’t allowed to bring schoolbooks home, not even for homework, because all of us kids — there were 12 of us —
BOOKS: Did your father’s not being able to read affect you?
PARTON: I started the Imagination Library because I realized just how crippling that was. If you can read you can educate yourself. If you can’t go to school or don’t want to, you can still go buy a book about any subject you want and educate yourself.
BOOKS: Did you read out loud to your father?
PARTON: He would only ask us kids to read to him if it was something important he needed to know, like an official paper. He was kind of embarrassed that he couldn’t read. My daddy came from a huge family, maybe 15 kids. He was like a lot of boys who had to quit school or not even go to school. They had to work in the field.
BOOKS: Since you didn’t have any books growing up do you have a lot now?
PARTON: I have rooms full of books. I don’t like reading off some technical thing. I know they are handy, but I love the smell and feel of a book. When I go on tour for five or six weeks I take about 40 books. I have what I call my bookcase.
BOOKS: Who are some of your favorite authors?
PARTON: I love Faulkner and Steinbeck. I think we should read all the great classics. Growing up in the country I realized I had really never read those great, famous books. I barely made it through high school, and we weren’t expected to or told to read the classics.
BOOKS: Is there a book that was an influence on your book?
PARTON: The first book we give away in the Imagination Library, “The Little Engine That Could” by Watty Piper. That is one of the first books I remember ever reading. I think that little book had a big impact on me, on my big dreams. I still have that philosophy. I am a little engine that did.