The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee — Review

September 3, 2014

When I saw a blurb about Marja Mills’s The Mockingbird Next Door on Book Riot I was so excited. I think Harper Lee is amazing and this book promised a glimpse into the famously reclusive author’s life and an answer to the question everyone asks: why didn’t she write another book?

Now, having read the book, as well as Lee’s statements against it, I’m feeling a bit conflicted.

There’s an NPR piece that looks at things from a slightly different perspective and doesn’t make Mills seem quite so predatory/opportunistic, but I still have lingering doubts and that makes me somewhat uneasy and unsure of how I should feel about this.

I will say that this does read much more as a memoir than a biography (whether that was the initial intention, I can’t say). Mills reflects on the time she spent with Lee and her inner circle and shares some of their stories and anecdotes, but this isn’t the all-encompassing story of Lee’s life. I enjoyed the glimpse into the everyday lives of Nelle Harper, Alice, and their group of friends.

All the same, the book doesn’t quite deliver on all of its promises. We get a partial answer to the big question, but nothing really solid. And while Mills paints a picture of what a day spent with Harper Lee is like, readers don’t get a full idea of her life or much of the Lee family history. There is also a bit of repetition in some of the descriptive language and the anecdotes that Mills shares.

If Mills was a close to that group as her book suggests, then she lived the dream. I always want to know what it would be like to spend time with a great author — to simply share stories and talk about life and literature. Lee comes across as a woman with incomparable intellect and wit, with a unique take on life. If Lee never gave her blessing to the book, then I respect that, but I’ll still cherish the peek at her personality and the spectacular relationships she has with those around her.

***

There will be a lot of reviews in the coming days. I appear to follow a very loose pattern in which I post reviews regularly for a while and then accidentally stop for a period of time (I don’t stop reading, of course. That would be absurd). I’ll work on being better at that, but no promises. If anything, we’ll say that my sporadic posting encourages appreciation of each individual post.

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