Harper Lee is one of Alabama's famous authors. She wrote the book, To Kill a Mockingbird, back in the early 60's and since then people have been striving to know the REAL Harper Lee. I think that Marja Mills has allowed the general reading public to come to know the reclusive Monroeville citizen in her book, The Mockingbird Next Door. Harper Lee released a statement that she did not endorse this book but her sister and lawyer, Alice Finch Lee, says that both sisters knew that Miss Mills was writing a book about their lives in Monroeville. I am going to believe Alice this time. Of the two sisters, Alice is my favorite!
The book opens in the early 2000s when Marja Mills is doing an article about To Kill a Mockingbird for The Chicago Tribune. While visiting Monroeville, Marja timidly knocks on the door of the Lee home. Knowing that Harper Lee is a recluse, she does not expect anyone to answer the door and is ready to walk away, when a petite little lady using a walker, answers the door. It is Alice Finch Lee, older sister of Harper Lee. And as Marja becomes friends with Alice, she soon begins to cultivate a friendship with Harper Lee or as Alice calls her, Nelle Harper. Marja, struggling with lupus, takes some time off and moves to Monroeville where she rents a house next door to the Lee sisters. She becomes their friend. Many mornings, Marja's phone would ring and it was Nelle Harper, "Are you pouring?" she would inquire. Coffee talks with Nelle were always interesting.
I think that Mockingbird Next Door is the best book I have read thus far in 2014. I found out that the Lee sisters are like many old southern ladies of their era. They enjoy rides in the country, visiting friends, going to church and they love relating stories of days gone by. As I read their story, I was reminded of old southern ladies I have known and loved. But I have to say that Alice Finch Lee is a bit different from most girls brought up in her day(she was born in 1911). Alice went to law school and came home to Monroeville where she worked in her father's law office until she retired at age 100.
Readers also want to know why Harper Lee never wrote another book. She says that she said all she had to say in To Kill a Mockingbird. Being an intensely private person, all the interviews and book signings really bothered Nelle. She was a modest writer and a humble person. When she met fans, she always worried that she had not lived up to their expectations of a 'famous writer".
From reading this book I found out that Harper Lee and I share a fondness for Harry Potter. Both Alice and Nelle were voracious readers and their modest home was filled with books. Bookcases were filled with books on English history as well as copies of To Kill a Mockingbird in many languages. Another book that Harper Lee enjoyed was, Being Dead is No Excuse by Grayden and Hays. It is a book that relates the "rules" of mourning and funeral rituals in the South. I have enjoyed this book so much that I have a copy on the bedside table in my guest room so that my visitors can read a chapter or so and chuckle before turning in for the night.
I was sad to turn the last page in this book and I know it is one that I will read again just to visit with the fabulous Lee sisters of Monroeville, Alabama.