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Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee Paperback – April 3, 2007


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Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee + The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee + To Kill a Mockingbird
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Holt Paperbacks; Reprint edition (April 3, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805083197
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805083194
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (107 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,318 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Few novels are as beloved and acclaimed as To Kill a Mockingbird and even fewer authors have shunned the spotlight as successfully as its author. Although journalist Shields interviewed 600 of Harper Lee's acquaintances and researched the papers of her childhood friend Truman Capote, he is no match for the elusive Lee, who stopped granting interviews in 1965 and wouldn't talk to him. Much of this first full-length biography of Lee is filled with inconsequential anecdotes focusing on the people around her, while the subject remains stubbornly out of focus. Shields enlivens Lee's childhood by pointing out people who were later fictionalized in her novel. The book percolates during her banner year of 1960, when she won the Pulitzer Prize and helped Capote research In Cold Blood. Capote's papers yield some of Lee's fascinating first-person insights on the emotionally troubled Clutter family that were tempered in his book. Shields believes Lee abandoned her second novel when her agents and her editor—her surrogate family in publishing—died or left the business, leaving her with no support system. There's a tantalizing anecdote about a true-crime project Lee was researching in the mid-'80s that faded away. Sputtering to a close, the final chapter covers the last 35 years in 24 pages. It's also baffling that this affectionate biography ends with three paragraphs devoted to someone slamming her classic work. (June 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–Shields takes on the elusive writer in this first-ever biography of her. Without direct input from his subject, the author's extensive research combines sources in local-history collections, interviews and correspondence with Lee's acquaintances, and Internet resources to piece together the details of the writer's life. Starting with Lee's childhood in Monroeville, AL, Shields depicts the people and events that inspired To Kill a Mockingbird's characters. A picture develops of a girl who would face down any bully, a nonconformist whose sorority roommates kicked her out after one semester but who made an impact on the campus with her presence, a woman with a wicked sense of humor and a writer with a voice and themes of prejudice and justice that resonate. Students and curious fans alike will find material here to further their understanding of her work and life. Extensive source notes and a student-friendly bibliography are included.–Charlotte Bradshaw, San Mateo County Library, CA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Charles J. Shields (born December 2, 1951) is an American biographer, primarily of 20th-century American novelists.

In 1997, Shields left a career in high school teaching and administration to write independently. Over the course of the next six years, he published 20 histories and biographies for young people. His first biography for adults, Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee (Holt, 2006) went on to become a New York Times bestseller. "This biography will not disappoint those who loved the novel and the feisty, independent, fiercely loyal Scout, in whom Harper Lee put so much of herself," wrote Garrison Keillor in the New York Times Sunday Book Review. "As readable, convincing, and engrossing as Lee's literary wonder," said the Orlando Sentinel.

Two years later, Shields followed-up his biography of Lee with a young adult version: I Am Scout: The Biography of Harper Lee, which received awards from American Library Association Best Books for Young Adults; Bank Street Best Children's Book of the Year; Arizona Grand Canyon Young Readers Master List.

In 2009, with fellow biographers Nigel Hamilton, James McGrath Morris, and Debby Applegate, Shields co-founded Biographers International Organization (BIO), a non-profit organization founded to promote the art and craft of biography, and to further the professional interests of its practitioners. As of July 2011, BIO has members in 43 American states and 10 nations, including Australia, India, Kenya, and the Netherlands.

In November 2011, Shields published the first biography of Kurt Vonnegut, And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life (Holt), described as an "incisive, gossipy page-turner of a biography," by Janet Maslin and an "engrossing, definitive biography" by Publishers Weekly in a starred review. It was selected as a New York Times Notable Book,[12] and Washington Post Notable Nonfiction Book for 2011.

Customer Reviews

Recently I chose this book as my selection for two book clubs.
S. Lehr
I highly recommend the book if you love a good biography, if you loved To Kill a Mockingbird, or if you are just looking for a compelling nonfiction read.
GenMe
Charles Shields has written an in depth, extensively researched book about Harper Lee which is a wonderful companion to her novel.
Kathryn

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Dave Schwinghammer VINE VOICE on June 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having taught TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD every year for sixteen years, I had to read this new biography of the seclusive author. The author, Charles J. Shields, who wrote it without Lee's cooperation, cleared up several mistaken impressions for me.

For one thing, I had always thought that Harper Lee was a lawyer and that was one of the reasons she hadn't written anything since TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She did go to law school, but dropped out with a semester left to go to New York to write full time.

Shields focuses on several questions. Why did Lee not follow up the amazing success of TKAM with another novel? Did Truman Capote really write the book? Why did Nelle Harper Lee never marry?

To answer the first, she had a hundred pages of a second novel before TKAM was published, but several factors intruded on its completion. One was her obligation to promote the novel and later the movie. The second was her collaboration with Truman Capote on IN COLD BLOOD, which also answers the second question. Nelle Harper contributed more to IN COLD BLOOD than Truman Capote did TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Why she never married is inconclusive; Capote said she had a love affair with a law professor during her college years; Shields also hints that there may have been a romantic relationship with her married agent, Maurice Crain, but there's no doubt she was a tomboy and an eccentric well into her college years and never had much interest in men.

Personally, I found the section on IN COLD BLOOD most compelling. The people around Garden City and Holcomb, Kansas, found Truman Capote about as easy to like as an alien from another planet. Nelle made friends and smoothed the way for his interviews. She also took copious notes.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Bookreporter on June 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Since its initial publication in 1960, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD has sold over 30 million copies worldwide and continues to sell almost a million annually. It is taught in 74% of schools across the country. Its film adaptation is heralded as one of the finest movies of all time and its lead character, Atticus Finch, was hailed by the American Film Institute as the "greatest hero in a hundred years of American film history" in 2003. With this enormous success, why then is so little known about its author, Harper Lee? And why has she never published another book? Through much research, journalist Charles J. Shields attempts to illuminate the enigmatic woman born Nelle Harper Lee in this extensive new biography.

Delving into Lee's early years, from her beginnings in Monroeville, Alabama, we begin to see her earliest influences that would shape her career-defining work. Life at home included her father, A.C. Lee, the venerable attorney and newspaperman (he was the model for Atticus), her depressed and remote mother, a brother who would die in the war, and her headstrong older sister, Alice, who worked as an attorney at the family firm. Many long afternoons were spent making up stories with her pixie-like neighbor and playmate, Truman Persons (later Truman Capote). Lee was to join the family firm as well, but once she worked on the literary magazine at the University of Alabama, she knew her greatest dream was to go to New York, much like her friend Truman did, and become a writer.
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55 of 60 people found the following review helpful By James Hiller VINE VOICE on June 17, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Shields claims througout his new "portrait" of Harper Lee that her stand alone classic "To Kill a Mockingbird" is second only to the Bible when people talk about what books have affected their lives.

Truth be told, I easily fall into that category as well. First assigned to me as a high school reading requirement in my sophomore Honors English class, little do I remember of the intial experience of first entering Maycomb, and spending some quality time with her residents. I remember a 50 question test at the end of the book which nitpicked certain details to death to prove whether or not we read it. It wasn't until I turned 30 again that I revisted this book, and reread as an adult, without a looming test in my mind, that I truly entered Maycomb, and met Scout, Jem, Atticus, and I daresay, felt the book. Now, I reread Mockingbird about once a year, re-watch the film once a year (it, too, is one of my all-time favorite flickers), and let its lessons wash over me like the mighty Mississippi.

I've always been hungry for information on Harper Lee, real name Nell. I knew she lives life in Monroeville, AL, doesn't talk to anyone about her book, and never wrote another. I knew about a possible law school background, and a few short stories. I thought that Atticus was modeled on her own father. Beyond that, I yearned to know more about this very private woman, possibly just to know how she produced the most important book written in the twentieth century. Charles Shields' new book attempts to do that, in a not necessarily biography, but portrait, of Harper Lee.

Shields' task is daunting, as he readily admits early on. Little information exists that is new on Lee, and Sheild's takes from whatever he can to compose his book.
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