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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

4.0 (120 )
5 star
 (43)
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3.9 (107 )
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4.2 (104 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Richard Huntsville, AL, USA 07-25-14
    Richard Huntsville, AL, USA 07-25-14 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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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
  •  
    Dixie St, Louis 07-22-14
    Dixie St, Louis 07-22-14 Member Since 2014

    Well read X

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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.

    6 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Cynthia L. O. Leary 02-12-15 Member Since 2011

    Learning Now

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    "Questionable"

    I don't know if I trust Marja. I heard the NPR interview and still was unsure about her ethics. The content was flat and I didn't like the "selfie" vibe I got from Marja.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Carly Asheville, NC 03-11-15
    Carly Asheville, NC 03-11-15 Member Since 2010

    Say something about yourself!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "I'm sure a great experience for the author"

    This story was interesting and I felt the author's enthusiasm for Nelle and Alice Lee. Learning more about the history of this family was great.

    However, the narration wasn't my favorite. The woman had a nice voice but her delivery was a bit too "darling" for my taste.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Maley B vancouver, wa United States 01-31-15
    Maley B vancouver, wa United States 01-31-15 Member Since 2014
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "So interesting and fun getting to know Harper Lee!"

    The book more than met my expectations. The narrator really made the book come alive. I would highly recommend the audio version to anyone who decides to read the book. I'm sure the live narration made difference for me between 4 and 5 stars.

    1 of 1 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.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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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.

    1 of 1 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 2015

    I am an avid eclectic reader.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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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.


    7 of 11 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcia 07-18-15
    Marcia 07-18-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Excellent!"

    Very glad I listened to this after first reading the book.
    Good choice for anybody who enjoys the era.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Dolly Jane Prenzel Nashville, TN United States 05-02-15
    Dolly Jane Prenzel Nashville, TN United States 05-02-15 Member Since 2014

    Dolly

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    "So glad I listened"

    And also read this book. Absolutely wonderful. I recommend it highly to anyone interested in the life of Nell Harper Lee, her sister Alice and many friends.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Marcia Mitchell 03-03-15 Member Since 2015

    I am a professional knitter, wife, mother, and grandmother. I love to listen to books while I knit. I love creativity and a good story.

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    "Interesting Story of Harper Lee"

    Narration was excellent. Was very pleasant to listen to. Story was good and interesting. Overall I'd give it four stars.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
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  • claire
    5/22/15
    Overall
    Performance
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    "This is a lovely and interesting book..."

    I thought I'd enjoy it, but didn't realise I wouldn't be able to stop listening!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • A C.
    5/12/15
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    "Warm and engaging"

    I really enjoyed this. Maria Mills manages to capture something of the essence of 'To Kill A Mockingbird' in her account of meeting and befriending the Lee's. I found the book warm and fascinating.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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