Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills
I have grown to like audio books again. I stopped listening to them when I stopped having to commute to work. However, I now find they are also great when I am spending a lot of time in the kitchen or soaking in the bathtub. So, when I ran across an electronic copy of ‘Mockingbird Next Door’ through my local library’s website, I couldn’t resist.
‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee was published in 1960, 3 years before I was born. If you were born and raised in the United States, chances are that it was required reading in your high school. It certainly was in mine. However, my family had a healthy book collection in the large built in bookcase in our basement. Books added up between my parents and three much older siblings. I never seemed to be able to get enough to read as a child and was often browsing books to find something to read next.
The cover had a girl on it so I mistook it for a kids book and started reading it. I was in 5th grade. My parents never restricted my reading to “age appropriate” books. I devoured ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’!
In high school, I was so excited to get the opportunity to discuss it with my teacher and classmates. However, because I confessed that I already read it, my teacher gave me a different book to read as well This happened a lot, all through high school. I was in honors classes but still found that I had already read many of the books assigned.
My point is, I loved ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’! I’ve read it three times and plan to read it a fourth before I read ‘Go Set a Watchman’ that was recently published.
It is well know that Harper Lee stopped talking to the press and making appearance in 1965. So when I ran across this biography, I figured it was unauthorized. So, of course, I Googled it. The author, Marja Mills claims that she had Harper Lee’s permission to write and publish it but Lee was quoted as denying that. No matter, she did give Marja Mills permission to move into the house next door to hers in Mobile, Alabama and did become friends with her. So much so, that she was invited into Harper and her sister, Alice’s, close circle of friends. Harper Lee also knew that she was writing a book about her. I can’t say that was giving permission or not but I certainly don’t feel guilty for listening to the audio book.
I really liked ‘Mockingbird Next Door’. It was the perfect audio book to unwind with in the bath. It wasn’t too serious, instead it sounded more like friends getting together for dinner or coffee, which happened a lot in the book. It certainly wasn’t ground breaking. Ms. Mills talked about the Lee’s childhood including Harper, actually known as Nelle Lee, her sisters Alice and Louise. She also talked about what Nelle did before she wrote the book and her part in the making of the movie.
Nelle became friends with Gregory Peck and they kept in touch even after the filming. There were a bunch of little tidbits in the book but mostly common knowledge. Yet I found comfort in it. As Mills often quoted Nelle as saying about certain things, “it’s delicious.”
Would I have liked more nuts and bolts/new information? Yes, it would have been nice. However, I didn’t really criticise it for that. It kept me engaged, was well written, and to my mind, respectful. To me, respectful is the most important element in a biography like this. I also really enjoyed the smooth voice of the narrator, Amy Lynn Stewart.
If you are interested in Harper Lee, I do recommend that you read or listen to this book. If you do, come back and let me know your thoughts.
Have you read ‘Mockingbird Next Door’? If so, what do you think of it?
About Marja Mills
Marja Mills is a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she was a member of the staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O’Hare Airport entitled “Gateway to Gridlock.” The Mockingbird Next Door is her first book.
Mills was born and raised in Madison, Wisconsin. She is a 1985 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service; a lifelong interest in other cultures led to studies in Paraguay, Spain and Sweden. Mills lives in downtown Chicago and often spends time in Madison and her father’s hometown of Black River Falls, Wisconsin, pop. 3,500.