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
I am an avid eclectic reader.
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.
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