The Mockingbird Next DoorLife with Harper Lee
by Marja Mills
Like so many other, I’ve always loved To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2011 I took a road trip with the Huz and we visited the Mockingbird museum in Monroeville, Alabama. We got to see the original site where Harper Lee and Truman Capote’s homes were and we even ate at a few local places said to be Lee’s favorites. I think that trip is a huge part of why I enjoyed this book so much.
Reading about the author’s own trips to the same place brought back great memories. Her first person account of getting to know the Lee sisters takes place in the tiny town of Monroeville. We had stayed in the same hotel and ate at the same restaurants. Mills visits Lee’s hometown for a simple article, assuming she’ll never have the opportunity to speak with the infamous author herself. Yet over the course of the next few years she actually becomes friends with the author and rents a house next door for a while. They watched movies from Netflix together and shared the occasional cup of coffee in the morning.
It was like sinking into a porch rocker on a humid afternoon. Mills tells you about the slow, unexpected friendship in a leisurely way that suits the setting. Lee comes across as witty and feisty. If the whole things had been fiction I wouldn’t have been surprised because it reads like such a dream for any fan of TKAM.
Mill’s portrait is exactly how I always pictured Lee would actually be. I’ve heard about the recent complaints about the authenticity of the book. I hope it’s all unfounded. I suppose there’s no way to know for sure, but in my opinion I felt like the author was constantly respectful of the Lees and their privacy. There’s no feel of privacy being evaded or secrets being aired to the public. It’s just a glimpse into their quiet world.
A few years ago I read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields. It came across as dry and a bit boring. I think the thing that was obviously missing is that irreplaceable spark that Harper Lee herself provides.
I loved the honest way it addressed Lee’s complicated relationship with fame. The sincerity about being proud of her work, but hating the attention and press that came with it. She was honored when she won the Pulitzer, but she still didn’t want to go through the stress of publishing another book.
BOTTOM LINE: A wonderful read for any fan of To Kill a Mockingbird. It’s also a great way to get excited before the release of Go Set a Watchman on July 14th!