The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

by Marja Mills

Hardcover, 2014





The Penguin Press (2014), Edition: 1st, 278 pages


"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)


(98 ratings; 3.4)

User reviews

LibraryThing member rmckeown
Reading Marja Mills' memoir of her brief time spent with Nelle Harper Lee has much in common with mining for gold. The successful prospector must sift through tons of dross to acquire a few nuggets. I expected much, much more insight into the author of the great, iconic novel, To Kill a
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. Instead I got a load of information I found irrelevant, uninteresting, and completely lacking in insight to Harper Lee.

Our book club read the Charles J. Shields’ unauthorized biography of Nelle Lee, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee a few years ago. We all thoroughly enjoyed the tantalizingly brief insights into her life. Lee is widely known as unwilling to give interviews, speak at public functions, or sign copies of her book. A first edition of TKAM runs to nearly $40,000. Had Mills’ book not appeared on my club’s reading list, I would have imitated the writer Helene Hanff, who threw a book against the wall, which disappointed her.

Marja Mills was a reporter for The Chicago Tribune. The Chicago Public Library had chosen To Kill a Mockingbird as the first selection for the “One Book, One Chicago” reading program. Mills’ editor asked her to travel to Monroeville, Alabama, and see if she could find enough information about the reclusive Harper Lee for a long feature story.

Mills wrote to Nelle’s sister, Alice, and politely asked if she could meet with her. Alice, and later Nelle, began meeting with Mills, and a friendship gradually emerged. Mills later moved into the house next door to Alice and Nelle. The three women shared many of their daily routines. Sounds great, right? No.

The first thing that annoyed me was the insertion of Mills into the story. I detest “new journalism” – ironically pioneered by Truman Capote a close friend of Harper’s when they were children. Harper assisted Capote in researching his best selling work, In Cold Blood. Lee detested “new journalism” – according to Mills in the early pages of the memoir. The Lee sisters were always gracious and patient with Mills and gave her a unique insight into the lives of the two sisters. The least Mills could have done was remove the tons of dross cluttering up this memoir.

Secondly, I found the repetitious nature of her writing highly annoying. After a couple of mentions, I began counting how many times Mills told the reader A.C. Lee – Nelle and Alice’s father – was the model for Atticus Finch. I counted five times. I also found her teasing very off-putting. She would begin a story, then suddenly drop it, as though she was told that particular story was off the record. She also mentioned a secret fishing hole the sisters enjoyed, but after mentioning how hard it was to find, she gave detailed directions to the spot. Topping this list of complaints were a couple of chapters devoted solely to Mills personal situation, with only a mention she had to cancel a trip for coffee to a local fast-food restaurant.

Mills could have easily written a biography of Alice Lee, who played an important roll in the life of Nelle and in the friendship Mills was able to develop. At more than 90 years of age, she continued to work as a lawyer in Monroeville.

My only hope is that Marja Mills has gathered enough information for a complete and authorized biography of Harper Lee, which was given to her on the proviso that the book not be published until after her death. For all these reasons, Nelle and Alice each get a star for their charm, politeness, and hospitality toward Mills, so that makes Mockingbird Next Door reach 3 stars.

--Chiron, 5/30/15
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LibraryThing member Whisper1
Periodically, there is a book that I don't want to end, one that haunts and stays with me long after the last page is finished. This is such a book.

The author had the very rare, precious experience of gaining the Lee women's trust. Since 1964, Harper Lee refused interviews. When this
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journalist/author began a relationship with Alice Lee and Nelle Harper Lee, she knew she walked on precious ground and needed to tread softly on specific topics.

Learning about southern mores and Monroeville, Alabama where Harper Lee and her elderly sister Alice reside, provided insight into the motivation for To Kill a Mockingbird.

I could write paragraphs about my love of To Kill a Mockingbird, but in the end, it all comes down to one thing. In my mind and heart, there is no other book like this one. An avid reader since childhood, I've read thousands of books. Since reading To Kill a Mockingbird in 1969, there are none to compare.

Marja Mills writes slowly, lovely, and gives a wonderful telling of these two spunky, highly intelligent ladies. This is not a trashy tell all book, rather it is a sweet, wonderful tale of two women who live quietly, humbly in a small town populated by 7,000 people.

It was wonderful to learn, but not surprising, that their tiny, humble house is overtaken by books, books and more books. To be invited inside the home of Harper Lee via the author is a rare and wonderful treat.

Fortunately, the author was able to pull together an incredible book based on thousands of conversations and years of knowing the Lee sisters.

A few years ago, Harper sustained a massive stroke, and now resides in a managed care facility. Hard of hearing, suffering from severe memory loss, the author was able to capture a time before Harper Lee struggled with so many health issues.

This books is highly recommended for those like me who love To Kill a Mockingbird!

Five Wonderful Stars
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LibraryThing member cblaker
I don't take any pleasure in writing negative reviews. The author seems like a nice woman and I feel bad she has to suffer through lupus. Her sometimes mentioned struggle with lupus would have made better reading than this book. It sounds like this book started out as a good magazine feature, but
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was stretched way too thin for it's 290 pages. The author, Marja Mills, went down for a magazine piece for the Chicago Tribune. Mills impressed, Harper Lee's older sister, Alice, and ended up with surprising access to Lee's inner circle.
With her lupus putting her on medical disability, she decides to move to Monroeville and get to know the Lee sister's better. She hangs out with Alice and Nelle (as Harper is known to her friends). Mills is so worried about offending Nelle that she mostly listens and never asks any substantial questions. We don't find out if Nelle is gay or not, but we do find out what scuppernog is. We don't find out how far Nelle got with her second novel, but we do know that she counted sixteen ducks at the duck pond (a fox might have gotten the seventeenth one). You can feel the author walking on eggshells as we go from one roadside diner to the next as Nelle or Alice recount one banal "anecdote" after another. I got 160 pages in and to drop this book. It is so dull.
At the time of publication, Nelle issued a statement that she had no idea that Mills intended to write a book and had not involvement in the writing. Yeah right. Marja Mills may have written a dull book, but she doesn't come off as a liar, and she'd have to be one helluva liar to make up all this stuff about the Lee sisters. I think unfortunately that Harper Lee is either very cranky or is being manipulated by her new lawyer. I hope Harper Lee's new novel is great, but I think it's just further evidence of manipulation by a lawyer interested in royalties.
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LibraryThing member PghDragonMan
While biography is not my typical genre, I enjoyed this look into the life of Harper Lee, author of that enduring classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. I also must admit, I prefer the treatment Erik Larson uses in his writings. While Ms Mills captures the essence of Harper Lee and the vanishing classic
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Southern lifestyle, my interest was flagging towards the end of the book. Part of the loss of interest was the shift in attention to Marja Mills' own health problems and away from the Lee sisters.
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LibraryThing member owlbeyourfriend
I enjoyed the parts of this book that looked more into Nelle Harper Lee's life--the moments that gave us Mockingbird faithful a glimpse into the life of the writer. It helped me understand her, which makes me want to re-read her novel.
Mills, however, didn't really appeal to me. The not-so-subtle
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"why did they choose little ol' me?" at the beginning was, to be frank, eye roll inducing. As the book continued, I could tell she wanted to make sure that the reader knew the context. However, her tangent train derailed so fast, I often couldn't keep up on what was going on in the book's present.
I also felt that her repetitiveness sometimes detracted from the statement. For example, re-iterating over and over that the Lee sisters saw their mother as a wonderful women and not troubled (as others had said) only seemed to me that Mills really didn't believe their assessment.
It's not a terrible book. Just not an awfully good one.
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LibraryThing member froxgirl
Is To Kill A Mockingbird on your Best Ever List? Do you mix up the book and the movie in your mind? Harper Lee's novel has permeated American and even perhaps world culture. But it was her only published novel. And some critics think that her sometime friend and next door neighbor Truman Capote
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(Dill) wrote it.

There are now some cracks in the never ending mystery of the life of Harper Lee. Journalist Marja Mills takes an assignment to try and meet Nelle (her name to those who know her) Harper. Mills meets Nelle's remarkable sister Ann, 15 years Nelle's senior, first, and receives a warm welcome in Monroeville (Maycomb), Alabama. Eventually both sisters approve of Mills moving next door and writing a book about them.

The book is a warm and gentle saga of small town life. No blinding revelations, more a loving recounting of how the days pass mostly pleasantly for the two devoted sisters and the friends who love and protect them.

For me, one of the truest pleasures is the book cover: Nelle and Scout, together on a porch swing.
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LibraryThing member Beamis12
I know there is a big debate going on with the author of the book and I have read numerous interviews and articles on the subject. After reading the book and the interview with Nell Harper's good friend Tom, who is mentioned quite often in the book, it is hard to believe that this book was written
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without Nell's tacit approval. Of course I could be wrong, but I can only judge the book, not how it was written.

I enjoyed this very much. It was great reading about Nell and her sister Alice, learning about their reading likes and dislikes. Added a few books to my towering TBR. Learning about their family, their past, their daily lives. The author went back and forth for many years, was introduced to the people and places they loved. She eventually rented the house next door for eighteen months, was back and forth between their two houses. She discusses Nell's relationship with Truman and her great love for Gregory Peck and his family. This was a very easy to read and well written chronicle of the author, her trials and challenges and her burgeoning relationship with both sisters. It was all things Southern and all things literary. I thought the author did a wonderful job and had an experience she will never forget. The Harpers, Nell and Alice, were both amazing women.
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LibraryThing member JudithDCollins
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
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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!
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LibraryThing member pennylane78
I was expecting so much more from this book. I really wanted to like it, but the story was more about the author's journey while making the book than on Harper Lee herself. I was hoping that I would learn much more about the renowned author, as she is somewhat reclusive, and I thought it would be
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interesting to hear a new perspective on her life. Instead, there were a lot of descriptions on how long it took her to actually knock on the door before actually knocking, or glances and thoughts before an actual sentence was uttered. Just not what I was expecting at all.
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LibraryThing member St.CroixSue
The journalist Marja Mills was given a rare opportunity to befriend and live next door to Harper Lee and her sister Nell. Harper Lee, known to never give interviews, is a natural storyteller and passes some of the best of them along to Marja in this easy to listen to book that is part biography,
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part memoir, and part reminiscences of southern life from a prior century.
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LibraryThing member TerriBooks
Meandering. Didn't really have a point to get to. I was hoping to learn more about Harper Lee as the author of "To Kill a Mockingbird" but this book didn't really go there. The focus was more on Harper Lee and her life today. And too much really about the author, Mills. Neither of those things are
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so interesting to me.
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LibraryThing member akblanchard
Like J.D. Salinger, Harper Lee is a mysterious figure in twentieth-century American literature. Her first and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) was an instant success that won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an Oscar-winning movie, yet Lee never wrote again for publication. Notoriously
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publicity-shy, she turned down all requests for interviews, until one day in 2001, when Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills knocked the door of the house Lee shared with her sister, Alice, in Monroeville, Alabama. Mills developed a close friendship with Lee (Nelle to her friends) and Alice, and even moved into the house next door to them. For fifteen months, Mills shared in the elderly ladies' daily routines, which mostly consisted of going out to dinner or coffee with them and their various Monroeville friends.

And that's about it.

If you are hoping for a tell-all biography that will reveal the hidden aspects (or dirty laundry) of Nelle Harper Lee's life, this isn't that book. At the beginning of Mill's project, the sisters told the reporter that they would trust her judgment regarding what she would include and what she would leave out. Mills writes that "[w]ith the Lees as my teachers, I learned more about literature, family, history, faith, friendship, and fun than I did in any classroom" (p. 2). That may be, but Mills keeps much of what she learned rather vague. For example, the Lee sisters, especially Alice, were involved in their Methodist congregation, and Alice was active at the denominational level, but what their faith meant to them on as believers is not discussed. Perhaps the Lee sisters did not think that that was a proper topic of conversation.

Remarkably, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird and her sister, a lawyer who is described repeatedly as "Atticus Finch in skirts", have nothing to say about the current state of race relations in the South other than that they hope that their African-American housekeeper "knows how much [they] love her." (p. 136).

This book is a heartfelt tribute to the two Lee sisters and to the "old days" of Monroeville. I can't bring myself to be too critical of this book. Nonetheless, the narrative moves at a snail's pace, and I would only recommend it for readers who really loved To Kill a Mockingbird.
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LibraryThing member mchwest
I am going to give into the slow and meticulous pace of this book because it's a southern thing to do. Before I read this I really knew nothing of the writer of the iconic book we were forced to read in high school. It was the only book in high school I enjoyed. My all time favorite book, A TIME TO
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KILL by John Grisham. I didn't read then, but I do now, over 70 books a year, and I learn something from every one of them. I grew interested in this book because of all the historical woman fiction out in the last couple of years, and so glad I picked this up. When Lee's sister Alice met this reporter she really liked her and invited her in to visit. Harper Lee quoted saying it was because "quality had met quality."
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LibraryThing member bookworm12
Like so many other, I’ve always loved To Kill a Mockingbird. In 2011 I took a road trip 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
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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!
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LibraryThing member Darwa
This book had so much potential, but the author turned it into much more of a story about her own relationships with with Nelle Harper Lee's circle of family and friends than the story of Lee's relationships that it promised to be. Throughout the book it felt that Mills had a need to repeat
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endlessly that Nelle and her sister welcomed her, which may be true but didn't need to be repeated endlessly!
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LibraryThing member SheTreadsSoftly
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills is a highly recommended look at the life and friends of reclusive author Nelle Harper Lee.

In June, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was the first book of 34 year old author Harper Lee. "Through the experiences of Scout, Jem, and their best
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friend, Dill, Lee paints a vivid picture of small-town childhood in the segregated South. She also explored complex themes in the lives of her characters, from mental illness to addiction, racism, and the limitations society imposed on women. The story of small-town childhood and racial injustice in Depression- era Alabama garnered mostly glowing reviews and stayed on the best-seller list for nearly two years. In 1961, Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The Academy Award–winning 1962 film version of the novel, starring Gregory Peck, became a classic in its own right."

After the success of To Kill a Mockingbird, (Nelle) Harper Lee never published another book. She jealously guarded her privacy and actively avoided all publicity or interviews for many, many years.

In 2001 Mills was sent by the Chicago Tribune to Monroeville, Alabama to try to get some information about Nelle Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird. The classic novel was chosen to be Chicago's first book in the new One Book, One Chicago program. Mills just expected to get some background information, write about the town, and set the tone for the city wide read. After gathering all the background information, she felt she should make at least one attempt to talk to Nelle or her (at that time) 89 year older sister Alice.

The sisters both knew from people around town that Mills was there gathering information and Mills herself had sent them information concerning the One Book, One Chicago program. Much to her surprise, Alice invited her in to talk and this started an unprecedented friendship. The sisters decided to trust Mills because they were intrigued by the One Book, One Chicago program and because, from Mills various inquiries around town, they were sure she wasn't a gossip. This insight proves to be true as Mills carefully shares only what Nelle deems safe. The tone of the book is all Southern charm and information about Nelle Harper Lee is carefully disclosed without a hint of gossip or scandal.

Mills was given permission to write this book from Nelle and Alice, and that seems obvious after reading it, although there was plenty of buzz around before its publication that it was going to be another unauthorized biography. Mills slowly and gently tells the story of their developing friendship and shares many of their recollections and stories, along with those of their friends. She covers daily life with the sisters (both are now in assisted living) in Monroeville, as well as with Nelle in New York City. Some things remain off the record. She does cover Nelle's longtime friendship with Truman Capote and why she never wrote another book.

Mills struggles with lupus are as evident as Nelle's feisty personality in this charming but careful account of Nelle Harper Lee. It is not, by any measure, a full biography of Nelle Harper Lee. Mills did not get an extensive on-the-record interview. It is, however, a portrait of her life during the time Mills interviewed her and lived next door to her along with whatever stories or information Nelle chose to share.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book for my Kindle from the Penguin Group for review purposes.
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LibraryThing member hardlyhardy
For decades following the overwhelming success of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” author Harper Lee deliberately kept her distance from reporters, would-be biographers and even fans she suspected of trying to take advantage of her. So why did she suddenly welcome Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills
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into her life, even to the point of encouraging her to move into the vacant house next to the one she shared with her sister in Monroeville, Ala.? The answers come in “The Mockingbird Next Door” (2014), the book Mills wrote about her surprising friendship with the reclusive, yet far from retiring, author.

1. Nelle (like her other friends, Mills refers to the late author by her real first name) liked the fact that at that time (2001) Chicago was encouraging its citizens to read and talk about her novel. These kinds of programs, now common in many communities, was a relatively new idea back then, and however much Nelle wanted to avoid public exposure, she enjoyed having her novel front and center.

2. Nelle was in her 70s then and she realized that her opportunities to get the facts straight for all those who would inevitably be writing about her life were running out. Charles Shields was already working on his unauthorized biography, and when it was published, she didn't like it.

3. Marja Mills first approached not her but her older sister Alice. Then in her early 90s, Alice was still practicing law in Monroeville. Nelle called her "Atticus in a skirt." Alice invited the reporter into her home, Nelle being away at the time, and answered a few questions. After Mills passed the Alice test, Nelle herself called the reporter at her motel and suggested getting together.

4. Mills herself was somewhat vulnerable. She was more introverted than the typical reporter, plus she suffered from lupus, a condition that can leave a person too tired to do anything for days at a time. It was lupus, in fact, that caused Mills to take a leave from the Tribune and move next door to the Lees.

5. The reporter didn't push for information as much as wait patiently for the author to reveal it. Gradually Nelle gave Mills access to her closest friends in Monroeville, and gradually Mills herself became a close friend. Every day she and Nelle would have coffee together. Every week they would go to the laundromat together.

The lively mind, tormented soul and generous heart that Nelle Harper Lee revealed to Marja Mills already makes her book a great source for all those who want to write about the writer. And perhaps now they will get their facts straight. For example, Truman Capote, her one-time friend and neighbor, did not help her write “To Kill a Mockingbird,” though she did help him write “In Cold Blood.”
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LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Audiobook narrated by Amy Lynn Stewart

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member juniperSun
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member TobinElliott
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
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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.
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LibraryThing member lschiff
This is a hard book to rate. The writing is not great, but there are enough details that it kept me interested. I didn't really learn anything new about Harper Lee, and don't really understand exactly how the Marja Mills was able to establish such a close relationship with her and her sister Alice.
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It feels as though there are some important details missing from the story. Finally, I had no idea about the controversy surrounding the book until just now, when I logged in to update my status after having finished reading. Now I'm left with a very uncomfortable feeling about the entire thing.
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278 p.; 6.5 inches


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