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The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee Hardcover – July 15, 2014

3.7 out of 5 stars 790 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, July 2014: In 2001, Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills traveled to Monroeville, Alabama in search of something that no other journalist had been able to land: an interview with the reclusive Harper Lee. Instead, she got an interview with her older sister, Alice--content with that, Mills prepared to return to Chicago to write her story. But then she got word that Lee (known as “Nelle” to those close to her) wanted to sit down for a “visit.” Many visits later they were friends, and in 2004 Mills was even invited to move in next door to the Lee sisters’ home. Underneath the plain, clear language of The Mockingbird Next Door is an enchanting, atmospheric portrait of two sisters and the southern town they inhabit (when Harper Lee is not living in New York). Mills makes a point of avoiding gossip, but that hardly matters. The book is compelling and charming; and it brings Harper Lee and her world, both past and present, to full life. --Chris Schluep

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Harper Lee, author of the “national touchstone,” To Kill a Mockingbird, withdrew from the relentless vortex of fame and never published another book. Her silence, like that of J. D. Salinger, has been a compelling literary mystery. When To Kill a Mockingbird was chosen for One Book, One Chicago in 2001, Chicago Tribune reporter Mills traveled to Lee’s Alabama hometown, certain that she would never get anywhere near the author. Instead, Mills found herself living a literary fairy tale, as Alice, Harper’s older sister by 15 years, still working as an attorney in her nineties, ushered Mills into their book-filled home. Soon Mills, much to her astonishment, is watching football games, going fishing, and sharing meals with Alice, Nelle (Harper is her middle name), and their friends. When the Lees express their hope that Mills will record their reminiscences and “set the record straight,” she rents the house next door and devotes herself to listening to tales of the Lee family; Nelle’s relationship with their childhood neighbor, Truman Capote (“Truman was a psychopath, honey”); and the nearly overwhelming repercussions of Nelle’s novel. Mills’ struggles with lupus bring her even closer to the sisters. As she portrays the exceptional Lee women and their modest, slow-paced world with awed precision, Mills creates a uniquely intimate, ruminative, and gently illuminating biographical memoir. --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: The Penguin Press; 1st edition (July 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594205191
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594205194
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (790 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #268,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Rushmore VINE VOICE on June 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Like many Americans, I read To Kill a Mockingbird in high school. It made an impression at the time but not a huge one (required reading has that effect). As I have grown older I have come to appreciate the greatness of the book.

When I saw Harper Lee featured as a character in the Truman Capote movies, my interest was rekindled. The Mockingbird Next Door definitely appealed as a means to find out more about the reclusive author. This book is such a pleasant surprise.

The citizens of Monroeville, Alabama fiercely protect Nelle Harper Lee's privacy. The access granted to Chicago Tribune reporter Marja Mills is something of a miracle. She showed up at the right time with a backstory that appealed to Nelle (TKAM was the One Book, One Chicago choice). Her approach was perfectly and respectfully orchestrated - first talking to Nelle's older sister Alice and some trusted acquaintances, finally meeting Nelle herself. Eventually she moved next door to Nelle and Alice and integrated into their lives. It's easy to believe that no other human being could show up in Monroeville as a stranger - a reporter, no less - and accomplish what Marja Mills did. In fact, at the same time Marja was living next door, another author was in town researching a biography of Harper Lee and had absolutely no access to her and little if any cooperation from the other citizens of Monroeville.

I wish the book had more photos. The cover photo is of Nelle with Mary Badham, the young actress who played Scout in the movie of TKAM. Nelle based the character of Scout on herself. A picture of Alice and Nelle would have been much appreciated. However, the dearth of photos is consistent with Nelle's desire for privacy.

This book is so well written, so conversational, so descriptive.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Added later: As everyone knows by now, allegations of this book being unauthorized have surfaced. I have read the information on that and at this time I do not believe that it is true. My reason why are at the end of this review.

As I read this fascinating story by a writer who came to know Nelle Harper Lee very well over a period of time (5 or 6 years) I would think, "I'm not sure that I would like this woman. I might like her sister, Alice, better." and then I would read some more and think, "I really like this woman." I think that she has probably caused this same kind of confusion and mixed feelings all of her life. After reading the entire story, I have decided that I would like her, in spite of her idiosyncrasies. But then, she'd probably say that I am the one with idiosyncrasies! She would not be shy about stating her opinion, that's for sure. The book is written in a different style from a lot of biographies, where the writer simply starts at the person's life and progresses forward. This one is more like a series of visits with friends, where we all get to go along for the ride, too. It answers some questions that we've all asked, such as why she never wrote another book and why did she use Harper instead of Nelle for her name. It also answers some that I never thought of asking, such as where did the name Harper come from and what nicknames did she and her sister Alice have. And no, I won't answer them here; read the book!! By the end of the book, I felt that it hadn't actually seemed like I read a book. I felt vaguely like there was something I needed to do to finish. But then I realized that the book actually felt like a series of visits with friends. Friends that you didn't actually see; friends that you don't talk back to, but, nevertheless, friends.
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9 Comments 102 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
As a vine reviewer, I was totally unaware that Harper Lee didn't want this biography until today. I deeply saddened by this news. This review was written before Harper Lee's disapproval and outrage. I am surprised that Harper Lee would cooperate with any journalist.

Original Review before Harper Lee's disapproval of the biography.

If you're a Harper Lee fan, you will definitely want to read this book. Marja Mills is one of the few American journalists allowed to know reclusive Harper Lee, author of the classic novel " To Kill A Mockingbird."

This book is an easy read but it is not a tell all. Mills befriends Harper and her older sister Alice Finch Lee. Alice will be a 103 years old and a practicing attorney in Monroeville, Alabama besides their father A.C. Lee who inspired the character, Atticus Finch, in her novel. Her sister Alice is known as Atticus in a dress by her sister Nelle Harper Lee.

The book isn't going to make startling revelations of Harper Lee's life. Unlike her former childhood friend Truman Capote, Harper Lee dreaded the spotlight and pressure of life in the public.

This book recognizes that Harper Lee has lead a classy, graceful, dignified life by her own rules. She doesn't give interviews but she doesn't live like a hermit either. She and her sister Alice have never married nor had children of their own but have led fulfilled lives.

In reading this memoir, I appreciate the author's relationship with her subjects. Mills befriends the Lee sisters and they befriend her. Their relationship is definite friendship where as even personal and intimate questions are off limits or not recorded but you get the sense of laughter, fun, stories, and joy in spending time together.
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