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The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee (2014)

by Marja Mills

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4673045,931 (3.37)38
"One journalist's memoir of her personal friendship with Harper Lee and her sister, drawing on the extraordinary access they gave her to share the story of their lives. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty 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 by 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 for Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation-and a friendship that has continued ever since. In 2004, with the Lees' encouragement, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, talking and sharing stories over meals and daily drives in the countryside. Along with members of the Lees' tight inner circle, the sisters and Mills would go fishing, feed the ducks, go to the Laundromat, watch the Crimson Tide, drink coffee at McDonald's, and explore all over lower Alabama. Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the quirky 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"--… (more)
  1. 00
    The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: In both books, journalists get personally involved with their subjects.
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» See also 38 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 30 (next | show all)
This was an awesome memoir of the authors time living next door to Harper Lee and her sister. I loved the book To Kill a Mockingbird and often wondered why Harper Lee never wrote another book. This book explains why and also shows how Lee could have naturally come to that decision to never write another novel. I really enjoyed it. ( )
  Jen-Lynn | Aug 1, 2022 |
Aside from autobiographies, I generally don't like non fiction book where the author writes about themselves in relation to a subject. It is no different in he mockingbird next door. Author Marja Mills repeatedly congratulates herself on how special it is that she had complete access to Harper Lee. She tells her readers that she has piles of stories told by Nelle herself, her sister Alice or her friends. What happened to all those stories? There are not enough of them in the book to make it interesting. I felt we heard more about Marja's sorrows and insecurities than about Nelle Harper Lee. I can't believe that Nelle ever sanctioned this book. ( )
  Marietje.Halbertsma | Jan 9, 2022 |
Well, that was a waste of time.

After having read the very good Go Set a Watchman and rereading the excellent To Kill a Mockingbird, I figured it would be good to get a little insight into the author of both, and how she came to write the novel that has been famous for almost six decades.

Instead, I got a story about a black hole. Basically, this is a novel about the author and her daily eating, driving and hanging out with the Lee sisters. She wastes a serious amount of narrative on unimportant things like how Harper likes to eat, etc. She also repeats things that were brought up in the first quarter of the book and relays them, word for word, a second time.

But possibly the most frustrating thing, at least to me, was the whole black hole effect.

Black holes can't be seen. The only reason we know they are there is due to all of the activity that goes on around them. This is essentially how Mills approached this book. She talks constantly about the hours and hours and hours of wonderful stories she captured on tape from the sisters...but doesn't tell us any of them. She alludes to a wonderful story that Harper tells her during one of their many outings...but doesn't actually relay it.

She also mentions quite early that Harper's decision to not write a second novel was not a single decision, but a series of small ones that accumulated over time...but doesn't show us any of those.

She addresses the Truman Capote issue reasonably straight on, but that's about it.

Oh, and she has no problem letting us know how the Lee sisters constantly state how highly they regard her, as well as her journalistic integrity.

So, really, this is an almost 300-page advertisement for a writer that is not very good. But hey, she got to hang with Harper Lee for over a year.

Too bad she couldn't have found something engaging to write about in all that time. ( )
  TobinElliott | Sep 3, 2021 |
This is not a biography, as Mills respected the privacy of Nelle Harper Lee and did not share all she was told. What we do learn is that Nelle (pronounced 'Nell') had a complex personality. We also grow to appreciate her older sister Alice who stayed in Monroeville and followed their father's calling as a lawyer and was a fount of knowledge about local history and personages. At times a reciting of daily minutiae, these happenings are put together well enough that the tale is never boring. It does make one hope that Mills will write a more expansive book about the family after the sisters have died, but I suspect that this may never happen because of the energy-draining effects of her lupus. At the very least, one hopes that her notes will be preserved for future historians.
The deliberate, reasonable tone of voice of this audiobook supported the cautious, protective writing about Mills' friendship with this famous author. ( )
  juniperSun | Jun 23, 2021 |
Audiobook narrated by Amy Lynn Stewart
3.5***

Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills was sent to Monroeville Alabama on an assignment – the Chicago Public Library had picked To Kill a Mockingbird for it’s “One Book, One Chicago” project and her editor wanted some background. She had no real hope of interviewing Harper Lee, but decided she had to at least try. So she went to the Lee sisters’ home and rang the doorbell. She met Alice who graciously invited her in and spoke at length and on the record for the newspaper article. The next day Alice gave Mills more time and introduced her to their long-time friend and minister. And then the unexpected happened… Nelle Harper Lee called Mills and suggested they meet.

Over time Mills became friends with the sisters. A health crisis required her to take a bit of a sabbatical, and a warmer climate and gentler lifestyle were recommended, so she decided to rent a house in Monroeville. And that house was right next door to the Lees. In this book, Mills tries to chronicle her experiences over several years of shared meals, drives in the country, trips to the cemetery, and Scotch on the front porch, and what she learned from the sisters about the South, religion, faith, family and justice.

I found it engaging and interesting, though at time repetitive. I’m aware of the controversy that surrounded its publication, but that did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of this book.

Amy Lynn Stewart does a fine job of narrating the audiobook. There were times when I felt that Nelle or Alice was speaking directly to me, relating a story about their parents or a cousin’s automobile mishap. ( )
  BookConcierge | May 18, 2020 |
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"One journalist's memoir of her personal friendship with Harper Lee and her sister, drawing on the extraordinary access they gave her to share the story of their lives. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is one of the best loved novels of the twentieth century. But for the last fifty 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 by 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 for Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills. It was the beginning of a long conversation-and a friendship that has continued ever since. In 2004, with the Lees' encouragement, Mills moved into the house next door to the sisters. She spent the next eighteen months there, talking and sharing stories over meals and daily drives in the countryside. Along with members of the Lees' tight inner circle, the sisters and Mills would go fishing, feed the ducks, go to the Laundromat, watch the Crimson Tide, drink coffee at McDonald's, and explore all over lower Alabama. Nelle shared her love of history, literature, and the quirky 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"--

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