It's time for this month's meeting of The Cephalopod Coffeehouse, hosted by The Armchair Squid. To join us or to visit other participants, please click on the link in the previous sentence and you can get the info. I don't put the sign-up list on my blog because every time I do, it comes out wrong and I don't know how to fix it and sometimes I'm so tired of fixing things, like I repaired my own toilet recently, that I just don't want to fix anything else. Furthermore, it is not a simple task, this being The Queen of Grammar. I'm held to a higher standerd than other people because I hold myself to that standerd, and does anyone know why the word standerd has a red line under it?
Ah, it's because it's such a good word. Am I right, or am I right?
Here's what we do in The Cephalopod Coffeehouse:
The idea is simple: on the last Friday of each month, post about the best book you've finished over the past month while visiting other bloggers doing the same. In this way, we'll all have the opportunity to share our thoughts with other enthusiastic readers.
All righty, then. The best book I finished during the past month is The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With HARPER LEE. This book is a can't put it down book. If you have other stuff you need to do, like if your toilet is broken, then don't start reading this book. You'd better fix the toilet first.
I started Mockingbird about ten minutes after my mail carrier delivered it last Thursday, and I finished it the following afternoon. I took time out to do stuff I had to do, but I took no pleasure in my usual tasks. I wanted to read, and I wanted the book to go on forever.
|The cover photo is of Harper Lee and Mary Badham,|
who played Scout, on the set of To Kill A Mockingbird in 1962.
In The Mockingbird Next Door, former Chicago Tribune journalist Marja Mills presents a tender and touching portrait of two very unusual sisters: lawyer Alice Finch Lee and author Nelle Harper Lee.
Mills traveled to the Lee sisters' hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, in 2001 to work on an article about the town, which is the model for Maycomb in one of America's most famous and popular novels: To Kill A Mockingbird, published by Harper Lee in 1960. Mills was pleasantly surprised when Alice Lee agreed to speak to her, and gave her a tour of the Lee sisters' modest home.
Mills was even more surprised when publicity-shy Harper Lee asked to meet with her.
In 2004, Mills rented the house next door to the Lee sisters. She went to McDonald's for coffee with Harper, fed local ducks with the two sisters, helped them watch movies from Netflix (they thought she was a technological genius because she could order movies and operate the remote control), and, best of all, listened to their memories––recollections of Monroeville and of their lives. They were particularly eager to have Mills debunk some ridiculous rumors that had spread about them over the years.
Their mother was not mentally ill, they point out, and she did not try to drown Nelle Harper, which childhood friend and neighbor Truman Capote claimed Mrs. Lee attempted on two occasions. Nelle Harper denounces Capote as a sociopath. Their friendship ended long before Capote's death in 1984.
Although Mills states that Nelle Harper told her stories that she should include in her book, and pointed out insistently that some stories were off the record, Mockingbird isn't a biography of Lee. It's more of a memoir about the time Mills spent with the sisters and their friends in and around Monroeville. She delighted in Alice and Harper's companionship, intelligence, ability to use words precisely, and their kindness.
I now enjoy knowing that Alice calls her younger sister Nelle Harper, but some friends call her Nelle, some call her Harper, and some use the nickname "Bear." I like it that the Lee sisters value achievement over celebrity. Harper Lee is proud of the Pulitzer Prize she won for her cherished novel, but she doesn't like people fawning over her or asking her for interviews and money, while they seek ways to exploit her. I like the anecdote about Truman Capote spending so much time at their house when they were children that their father, A.C. Lee, often asked if anyone had put Truman out for the night.
Mills reveals a couple of unpleasant facets of Harper Lee's personality, but does not dwell on them.
Sadly, Harper Lee had a stroke in 2007 and never regained the ability to walk. She became a litigious person. She also said she had never authorized Mills' book. Alice Finch Lee, still practicing law at 100 (the age at which she retired; she is now 102), issued a statement that they had indeed cooperated with Mills. Alice and some other old friends say that Nelle Harper is mostly blind and deaf and will sign anything put in front of her by someone she thinks is trustworthy. We don't know, however, if someone convinced Nelle Harper, for nefarious reasons, to try to kill the book, or if Nelle Harper just plain changed her mind, as she has long been wont to do.
It's sad to observe the life of Nelle Harper Lee after reading such a charming book, but I wouldn't trade reading the book for not knowing that Harper Lee is elderly, confused, and less than perfect. I've read and seen some interviews with Mills. She doesn't seem the con artist type. Besides, if she wanted to cheat the Lee sisters, all she'd have to do is repeat the lies that have followed them for years. Concentrating on the negative aspects and rumors about their lives would probably make for a better selling book than one that tells about little trips to Scratch Ankle, Alabama, and eating at a diner called Wanda's.
I purchased my copy of Mockingbird from Amazon at http://goo.gl/SN2LXA.
The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With HARPER LEE earns The Janie Junebug Seal of Highest Can't Put Down That Book Approval.
Infinities of love,
Note: Alice Finch Lee and Nelle Harper Lee now live in separate assisted living facilities. If you've never read To Kill A Mockingbird, then hop to it. There's a reason I have a dog named Harper Lee and used to have one named Scout.
And have you noticed that Harper and Atticus have joined the lists of the most popular current names for girls and boys? Most students read the book in high school. Obviously, the characters stay with them. Gregory Peck played the part of Atticus Finch in the movie version of To Kill A Mockingbird. Peck remained friends with Harper Lee until his death. His daughter named her son Harper.
Shockingly, To Kill A Mockingbird was not included by the editorial board of the Modern Library in their list of the one hundred greatest books of the last century. It continues to sell thousands of copies and brings in about $1.5 million in royalties each year. Mills says that Harper Lee used her wealth generously, but quietly, providing support to charities and educating a number of people who never knew that the famous author took an interest in them.