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The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee | [Marja Mills]

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is one of the best-loved novels of the 20th century. But for the last 50 years, the novel's celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills.
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Publisher's Summary

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, is one of the best-loved novels of the 20th century. But for the last 50 years, the novel's celebrated author, Harper Lee, has said almost nothing on the record. Journalists have trekked to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, where Harper Lee, known to her friends as Nelle, has lived with her sister, Alice, for decades, trying and failing to get an interview with the author. But in 2001, the Lee sisters opened their door to Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation - and a great friendship.

In 2004, with the Lees' blessing, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next 18 months there, sharing coffee at McDonalds and trips to the Laundromat with Nelle, feeding the ducks and going out for catfish supper with the sisters, and exploring all over lower Alabama with the Lees' inner circle of friends.

Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the Southern way of life with Mills, as well as her keen sense of how journalism should be practiced. As the sisters decided to let Mills tell their story, Nelle helped make sure she was getting the story - and the South - right. Alice, the keeper of the Lee family history, shared the stories of their family.

The Mockingbird Next Door is the story of Mills's friendship with the Lee sisters. It is a testament to the great intelligence, sharp wit, and tremendous storytelling power of these two women, especially that of Nelle.

Mills was given a rare opportunity to know Nelle Harper Lee, to be part of the Lees' life in Alabama, and to hear them reflect on their upbringing, their corner of the Deep South, how To Kill a Mockingbird affected their lives, and why Nelle Harper Lee chose to never write another novel.

©2014 Marja Mills (P)2014 Penguin Audio

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.8 (59 )
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  •  
    Richard Huntsville, AL, USA 07-25-14
    Richard Huntsville, AL, USA 07-25-14 Member Since 2009
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    "Story has nothing new to say about Harper Lee"

    Oddly enough, the question of whether Harper Lee or her sister Alice contributed to this book can be argued without a genuine resolution. They are elderly, but not all elderly people are incompetent. The question can be; could this author have gathered her stories about the sisters without ever having spoken with them, and she pretty much could have. Which does not say she didn't speak to them, about the article she wrote about encouraging everyone in Chicago to read the same book at the same time, To Kill a Mockingbird. Although this is a an interesting, well written discussion about the woman who wrote to Kill a Mockingbird and her hometown, there is nothing new here. The book is well written, interesting, if you are new to Harper Lee's history, but if Harper Lee says she did not agree or contribute to a book, there is every reason to believe her.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Pat 07-22-14
    Pat 07-22-14 Member Since 2009

    A voracious reader, especially for a dog. Of course, terriers are superior. Not bragging. Just true.

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    "Okay, But Misleading Title"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    A new title. No real insights into Harper Lee; more about her sister and day-to-day life in a small Southern town. Not crazy about the reader.


    What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?

    The most interesting part was a few glimpses into Harper Lee's life, e.g. she doesn't have laundry facilities and home and uses a laundromat. Also, depiction of life among the seniors in flyover country. The least interesting? The depiction of life among the seniors in flyover country - eventually it got pretty repetitive and, at times, tedious.Harper Lee's older sister "Miss Alice," an attorney who practiced through her 90s and beyond, was much more interesting and forthcoming.


    Did the narration match the pace of the story?

    Unfortunately, yes.


    What else would you have wanted to know about Marja Mills’s life?

    Not a thing - except maybe why a woman in her 40s on medical disability leave for Lupus would even consider adopting a baby. A very brief passage in the book.


    Any additional comments?

    I have very mixed feelings about this book, although, despite the controversy, I have no doubt that Harper Lee and her sister did indeed know that she was writing it. In fact, that was part of the problem - no real insight or revelations out of respect for the subject(s). It was kind of interesting in terms of a glimpse of the down-to-earth life of Harper Lee and some of her background. But it would have made a better magazine feature than book. I also had some issues with the reader. Perhaps her Southern accents and "character" voices were authentic, but they sounded like exaggerations and got a little annoying.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amma Louisa, Kentucky USA 07-30-14
    Amma Louisa, Kentucky USA 07-30-14 Member Since 2011
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    "Our Book Club Will Love This Book!"
    If you could sum up The Mockingbird Next Door in three words, what would they be?

    I found myself loving Alice, the eldest sister of Harper Lee. Harper has her reasons for her wish and need for privacy. I can accept that and her reasons are none of our business and yet, she did reach out to this young woman and did share. I felt the sharing was warm and intimate. I did not feel it an invasion of privacy. I appreciated hearing the bits and pieces of their lives, their character and loves.

    Living as a transplant to a small rural Southern town myself I did grow to understand things that eluded me such as our book club members clinging to the "home place". After listening to the book I now understand that it is an inner draw, a history, a belonging.

    I feel richer for the book. I am glad I listened.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-20-14
    Jean Santa Cruz, CA, United States 07-20-14 Member Since 2010

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

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    "A Charming Book"

    I found this to be a charming book and very readable book. No reporter has gotten close to the reclusive writer other than Maja Mills. In 2001 she flew to Monroeville Alabama to write about her for The Chicago Tribune. She told Alice about the Chicago library’s “One Book, One City” to celebrate the 41 anniversary of the publishing of “To Kill A Mockingbird”. To Mills surprise the sisters gave her a brief interview. Alice Finch Lee was born in 1911 and is the older sister. She is the measured steady one and is still a practicing attorney. Maja Mills had been diagnosed with Lupus in 2004 and was out on disability from The Chicago Tribune. Consequently, she moved to Monroeville, Alabama next door to the Lee sisters home. Mills states the move was with the permission of the Mills sister and with the understanding she was going to write a book. She entered easily into the world of the Lee’s and their friends. They all shared aching joints and free time to talk about books, local history, to go fishing and long car rides into the country. The book provides a rich sense of the daily texture of the Lee sister’s lives.

    The author is respectful guest of the Lee sisters, so don’t expect insider gossip. Mills describes Nelle Harper Lee (born 1926) as a down-to-earth, self assured, spirited, spontaneous, quick-witted and passionate. She is also impatient and has a temper. The author repeatedly tells of what good company the Lee sisters are. When ask about the name Harper they explain the middle name Harper, was a tribute to the doctor who saved the life of Louise (the middle sister). Mills delves into Harper Lee’s relationship with Truman Capote, who appears as Dill Harris in “Too Kill A Mockingbird”. Truman lived with his aunt next door to the Lee’s a few years when they were all children.

    The publisher delayed the publishing of the book because Harper Lee published a letter saying she did not participate in the book and did not authorize it. Alice Lee wrote a letter to the publisher saying both she and Harper Lee participated knowingly and willing in the book. So the publisher went ahead with the release of the book.

    “To Kill A Mockingbird” was published in 1960, won the Pulitzer Prize and became a classic of American literature. It still sells some 750,000 copies annually and is now sold in e-book and audio format. Harper Lee stopped talking to the press in 1965.

    I enjoyed the book and found it to a relaxing read. Amy Lynn Stewart did an excellent job narrating the book.


    5 of 8 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cindy 09-29-14
    Cindy 09-29-14
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    "The story is rather repetitive"

    I am a great fan of the book, To Kill A Mockingbird. I googled the author of this book and read several links about her relationship with Harper Lee, as well as the original story she did for the newspaper. Then I read her book and I found it to be a rehash of the newspaper article. From all I have read about Harper Lee she can be a rather prickly person - and her dismissal of this author's facts seems to follow her personality. I don't doubt that Marja Mills had cooperation with the Lee sisters and then later on Harper Lee changed her mind because of her aversion to publicity. At the same time, the author isn't actually breaking any new ground with her experiences with Miss Alice Lee and Harper Lee.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ray West Deptford, NJ, United States 09-22-14
    Ray West Deptford, NJ, United States 09-22-14 Member Since 2013

    Retired Political Science professor from a community college. Especially like Legal Thrillers.

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    "SMALL TOWN SOUTH"

    A good account oh Nell Harper Lee and her older sister, Alice. Doesn't concentrate on the book as much asI had expected. Provides a good look at a small Southern town and the social arrangements that exist there.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine S. Read Fairfax, VA USA 07-29-14
    Catherine S. Read Fairfax, VA USA 07-29-14 Member Since 2010

    A digital media consultant and business strategist. I'm a lifelong lover of books in all forms.

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    "This Memoir Stands on its Own Merits"
    If you could sum up The Mockingbird Next Door in three words, what would they be?

    Warm affectionate storytelling.


    What other book might you compare The Mockingbird Next Door to and why?

    I think this book is unique. It's in the style of "new journalism" which means it's journalistic non-fiction reporting but the journalist is also part of the story. It really works here.


    What about Amy Lynn Stewart’s performance did you like?

    She captures the tone of the author really well and her portrayal of Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice is believable.


    If you were to make a film of this book, what would the tag line be?

    An elusive literary legend as next door neighbor.


    Any additional comments?

    The book stands on it's own merit. This is not a straight-up biography of Harper Lee. It's the author's personal memoir of the months and years she spent getting to know Nelle Harper Lee, her sister Alice, their close friends and the community of Monroeville, AL. There is important biographical information about the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" but the book is so much more than that.

    1 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Grace 10-09-14
    Grace 10-09-14
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    "Sensitive, nonjudgemental, well written"

    Well narrated, interestingly written. Journalist, Marya Mills respectfully, with humor and affection, shares her observations and the stories she gleans from Nell Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird), and Nell's older sister, Alice -- in their 70's & 90's, respectively, when Mills meets and develops a close friendship with them. It is with their blessing that she documents their stories as well as those shared by friends and others from their Alabama hometown, with the intent that Harper Lee's life is truthfully told.

    I'm now going to read To Kill a Mockingbird again!

    0 of 1 people found this review helpful
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