Over a storied, six-decade career in country music, singer-songwriter Loretta Lynn became a legend of the genre – releasing 51 Top 10 hits, selling 45 millions albums worldwide, and breaking ground for countless women who followed her footsteps. Known as the Queen of Country, she’s celebrated for writing authentic, heartfelt songs that tackled taboos of the time, and were often drawn from her own experiences as a wife and mother.
Born into a poor Kentucky coal-mining community in 1932, Lynn’s is a true larger-than-life story. One of eight children, she started singing in church from a young age, was married by fifteen, and pregnant soon after. Together with her husband and kids, Lynn peddled her music across the country, eventually settling in Nashville in the 60s.
It was there she scored her first big hit with “Success,” struck up a friendship with Pasty Cline, and established herself as one of the city’s most distinct new voices. Following a slew of No. 1 singles – including “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” “Fist City” and “Don’t Come Home A’ Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)” – she became the first woman to be named the Country Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year, and was inducted into more music Halls of Fame than any other female recording artist to this day.
As an author, Lynn penned her first memoir, Coal Miner’s Daughter, in 1976. An intimate account of her journey from small-town Kentucky to country music stardom, the book was a NYT #1 bestseller and sparked the 1980 Oscar-winning biopic of her life. In 2003, she followed it up with Still Woman Enough, a candid portrait of her second-act marriage struggles and the stresses of fame.
2020 saw the publication of Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust, a meditation on her dear friendship with fellow country legend Cline, up until the singer’s tragic death by plane crash in 1963. In honor of its release, Lynn sat down with the New York Times to discuss her reading life – noting her love for the Bible, Bob Dylan’s writings, and books recommended by Reese Witherspoon. On the impact of literature on her songwriting, she mused:
“Books are like photographs: They take you away to lands and open senses for you. You go to places you’ve never been, and meet people you may never have known. The biggest influence on my writing has been story songs. Mommy used to sing those and I thought they were great. The best songs I ever wrote tell a story.”
From Johnny Cash to Ann Patchett, explore her bookshelf below, and check out the reading lists of other music icons right here.
Loretta Lynn’s Reading List
“The best book I ever got was my family Bible my husband Doo gave me in 1966. It means the world to me.” -LL
The Shack by William Paul Young
“My new favorite book is The Shack, by William Paul Young. It’s a good story and it shows how our ideas about God can be too narrow. When it first came out, it made a lot of people mad. Preachers were preaching against it and everything. I know a thing or two about controversy.” -LL
Man in White by Johnny Cash
“It’s a historical fiction book about the life of Paul.” -LL
The Lyrics: 1961-2012 by Bob Dylan
My House of Memories by Merle Haggard
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
The Clean Plate: Eat, Reset, Heal by Gwyneth Paltrow
“I’m not one to go for all that vegetarian stuff, but Gwyneth is a friend and it’s a real pretty book.” -LL
It’s a Long Story: My Life by Willie Nelson
“Willie’s a good friend and I hear it’s a really good book. He wrote great songs, like my good friend Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy.’ -LL
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
“My girls tell me it’s great. Ann’s a famous writer who lives right here in Nashville. She started this little bookstore called Parnassus Books. Everybody knows that place now.” -LL
(via The New York Times)