Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Mockingbird Next Door - Marja Mills

subtitle:  Life with Harper Lee

Two years ago in November I went with my good friend Kathryn to the Nashville book festival.  It was marvelous.  A weekend of listening to southern writers discuss their books and the writing process.

We heard Marja Mills explain the writing of this book at the festival.  At the time, there was a controversy going on as Harper Lee had denied authorizing the biography.  When Harper Lee died recently, my library displayed this book and several others related to the famous author and I finally picked it up to read.

Marja Mills was a journalist sent from the Chicago paper she worked for to research and report on Harper Lee the year Illinois made "To Kill a Mockingbird" the Illinois book of the year.  She makes a connection with Nelle Harper Lee and her sister Alice and returns to their small town when physical disability forces her to leave her job for a while.  She lived next door to them for over a year.

As I read the story, I felt I was reading about the unfolding of a friendship.  Two people from different parts of the world find their commonalities and share the everyday activities of life.  I didn't feel the author exploited their friendship, though she was aware of its special qualities. Some may see it as taking advantage of a pair of older women who wanted to have their memories recorded.  I think everyone has a need to tell their story before they are gone and forgotten and Marja happened to be there with a sympathetic ear and a journalist's skill for capturing those stories.  I also think Marja was where she needed to have someone help her see what her own life was shaping up to be.  I suspect that the fuss was due to Lee's declining capacities as she was nearing the end of life and lost her sister, Alice, and not any betrayal of their friendship.

To me, it's the story of Marja learning to slow down and appreciate the daily rhythm of life and of Nelle deciding to trust and share that life with someone.  Nelle Harper Lee is revealed as a lover of words and writing, fun loving and shy, intensely private and loyal.  It is a shame she did not keep writing while she was alive.

Published:  2014  Read: February 2016  Genre: Biography


  1. Have you read the book "True Beauty" by Ann Patchett? It is a memoir of her friendship with another woman, and I think you'd like it.

    Thanks for sending me your site. This is great!

  2. I think you mean "Truth and Beauty" and yes, I read it in 2010, it was very moving, especially since I'd read "Autobiography of a Face" too.


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