The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee
By Marja Mills
Narrated by: Amy Lynn Stewart
Length: 8 hrs and 11 mins
Release Date: 07-15-14
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Program Type: Audiobook
Publisher: Penguin Press HC
My Rating: 4 Stars
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 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 eighteen 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.
THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: Life with Harper Lee, by Marja Mills is a diary like—inside look at one of the most popular and beloved southern writers in history, with her classic Pulitzer Prize winning, To Kill a Mockingbird. Former Chicago Tribune reporter and first-time author Mills befriended the famously private Lee sisters of Monroeville, Ala., back in 2001, and moved into the house next door in 2004. Initially on assignment from her newspaper to gather information on Harper Lee (known as Nelle), neither Mills nor her cameraman, had any illusions about succeeding where countless other journalists had failed. Lee, known by her first name, Nelle—and her 89-year-old sister, Alice, a lawyer, were interested in Chicago's One Book, One Chicago program, which had chosen Mockingbird for that year's citywide reading. When Mills rang the doorbell at the Lees' home, Alice invited her in for a long conversation. This led to repeated visits and resulted in a friendship that continues, even with both sisters now in assisted living facilities. In this unique memoir, Mills writes about two unique women who retained their dignity even in the midst of celebrity madness. This famous author was overwhelmed with attention, and after reading the book, readers can sympathize and understand her need for her privacy. A recluse, Lee wants to protect her privacy and chose not to write another book, since she was at the top of her game. Mills recounts a simple daily life with the sisters, as well as time with Nelle in her longtime second home, New York City. She takes readers to a small southern town with a slow everyday life style, from having coffee at McDonalds, feeding the ducks, and eating gravy and biscuits at a diner. An intimate account of how fame changed their lives, and some juicy tidbits—all fans of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, will love. I listened to the audiobook and the narrator, Amy Lynn Stewart delivered a pleasant performance for this laid back account of the simple ways of the south with these two sisters, as they approach the last part of their lives. Mentioned in the book, Alice seemed to be the steady, responsible older sister, and Nelle Harper was the spirited, spontaneous younger one. The sisters lived modestly, with an eclectic circle of friends that included "a retired hairdresser, a pharmacy clerk, a one-time librarian, and a former bookkeeper who also was the wife of a retired bank president. Often, friends joined in the outings, breakfasts and dinners that Mills and Lee shared. A simple life. Readers will learn as about Mills' personal struggles with lupus, and her interactions with these eccentric, yet witty women. I had just finished re-reading the 25th anniversary edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and this book was a nice edition to read afterwards! Thank you for sharing this beautiful account of these extraordinary women!