The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper LeeSo sorry for the lack of updates over the last few weeks! I was taking an extended summer vacay (and reading plenty of new books) so there should be many reviews ahead of us 🙂

I was intrigued by The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee when I first heard about it last year, blogging about it in one of my earlier posts, well before news of Go Set A Watchman erupted. So of course I finally had to get around to reading it since Watchmen was our August book club pick – watch out for my upcoming review!

As author Marja Mills tells it, she befriended the Lee sisters in 2001 after interviewing them for a piece in The Chicago Tribune about the “One Book, One Chicago” program, which encouraged the entire city to read To Kill A Mockingbird. In 2004, on medical leave from her job, she moves in next door to them (apparently with their blessing, despite their previous disregard for journalists) and spends the next eighteen months sharing coffee, friendship, and memories. Among the topics largely off the table was their allegedly mentally-ill mother and the rift with Truman Capote. On the table was conversations about the South, history and literature, and To Kill A Mockingbird and (ironically) Harper Lee’s failure to publish another book.

Unexpectedly, this is Mills’ story as much as it’s about the Lees. I appreciated the framework this provided, but I was undoubtedly not reading this book to hear about her life story so it made for some jarring transitions. For example, the book follows a relatively chronological narrative thread for Mills while jumping around wildly between topics concerning the Lees, leading to redundant moments and off-topic meandering. Mills does do good work in sharing Nelle’s and Alice’s characters with a curious audience, and it was fascinating to get a glimpse into the past of such inspiring women.

Unfortunately, after the book’s publication, Nelle disavowed it so take its content with a grain of salt. While I enjoyed the collected anecdotes and selfishly appreciated that it put Watchmen into better perspective for me, I feel bad about the abuse of trust perpetuated by both books.  Perhaps its publication should’ve waited until Nelle’s death, but if you want to know more about the genius behind Mockingbird, this is an insightful read.

3 Stars

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