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The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee - Marja Mills The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee will tell you, just as its title promises, everything you ever wanted to know about Marja Mills.

Negative reviewers on Goodreads are often told to give a thought to the writers behind the books. These writers have hearts and souls and hopes and dreams. They care about what people say about their books.

Fair enough. But what if all we ever hear about in a book is the heart and soul and hopes and dreams of the author in question, when what we were really hoping for was a peek at the person the book's supposed to be about?

Perhaps reading this book is fitting punishment for anyone who wanted to read this book in the first place. Harper Lee, after all, insists that this book was not written with her approval or consent.

If you need a better reason not to read it, how about: it's boring.

Even if every word Mills wrote about Harper Lee is God's own truth, you're better off reading Lee's Wikipedia entry. It has more information, and it's short and to the point.

Reading this book will expose you to such deathless prose as Marja Mills taking an entire paragraph to knock on Harper Lee's door:

I raised my hand to knock and stopped. It occurred to me my cardigan might smell like the mildew that was my unwelcome roommate for the time being. The baskets of scented Walmart pine cones I placed strategically around the house only meant that the place now smelled of mildew with an odd note of cinnamon. Me, too? I lifted my forearm to my face and sniffed. Not great but passable. I knocked.

That's right, kids. She gets to Lee's door, thinks about knocking on the door, and then knocks on her door, only taking about a hundred words to do so.

If the door drama sounds almost too exciting, bear in mind that there are also paper towels.

Julia put the bowl on the counter to my left and set out a paper towel.

"For the seeds."


Mills obediently slips her scuppernong seeds into the paper towel a few paragraphs later. And then, on the next page:

I realized I was still holding the crumpled paper towel.

"Is there a..."

"I'll take that," Julia said. She threw away the paper towel and returned to the stove.


If that's not enough paper-product drama for you, have no fear! About forty pages later, there are: more paper towels!

The paper towel dispenser was on the wall, several steps from where Alice stood. To reach it, she would have had to grip her walker with wet hands. I handed her a paper towel.

Alice dried her hands and then matter-of-factly wiped clean the area around the sink.


There's more, but I'm having a hard time staying awake so you're just going to have to imagine it.

If you need more reasons not to read this book, or something to help you fall asleep tonight, I offer you the following lengthy pointless mess:

Late one morning, Nelle [Harper Lee] and I were taking the long way back from McDonald's to West Avenue. Instead of making the usual right onto Alabama, Nelle took the back way out of the McDonald's lot. She made a left onto the Highway 21 Bypass. We sped along past the Subway sandwich shop and the Ace Hardware store, both to our left, and up the incline to the intersection with Pineville Road. The Bypass ended here. Turn right and you were on the rural stretch of highway to Julia Munnerlyn's house in the country and, just beyond, to the tiny town of Peterman.

Turn left on Pineville, as we did, and you were headed toward the Methodist church. Immediately to our right, we drove past a couple of abandoned structures, a weathered house and a dilapidated gas station, neither of which looked to have been occupied since the Depression, give or take. We passed Dale's large redbrick Baptist church on our right. Nelle slowed and glanced over at me. We were coming up on First Methodist, its white steeple stately against a blue sky.

"Do you mind if we stop off in the cemetery?"

I did not mind.

She knew her way around the cemetery and idled the car in front of a few headstones. They weren't names I recognized. She didn't volunteer information about the interred and I didn't ask. Something reminded her of a story and a smile spread.

"Has Alice told you about our Aunt Alice and Cousin Louie encountering a problem at the cemetery?" Nelle laughed.

I'd heard about other Aunt Alice capers, to be sure, but none in a cemetery.

"You see, Cousin Louie took Aunt Alice and a couple of other old ladies to pay a visit to the cemetery." This was not in Monroeville but, she thought, Atmore. They paid their respects at a number of graves, and were having a perfectly pleasant outing, as cemetery visits go. Then Louie, who was driving, got the underside of the car caught on a mound of grass – more of a small, steep hill – she tried to drive over. The car was stuck there, like a turtle on a short pole.

Louie tried to go forward. Nothing. She tried to put the sedan in reverse. Nothing. They were stuck. The ladies peered out the car windows. They would have to half-step, half-drop out of the car to get out. And then there still would be the problem of what to do next.

Louie clambered down onto the grass from the driver's seat. She took several steps back and surveyed the situation. She walked around the car, perched firmly atop the grass mound, and issued her report to the others, who remained in the vehicle.

"What confronts us," Louie declared, "is a problem of physics."

Nelle dissolved into laughter as she said this, so much so that I never did hear the solution.


Okay? I hope you didn't miss the bit about passing the Subway sandwich shop on the way to that unfinished, only-funny-if-you-were-there-for-it non-story.

If reading that made you hunger for a couple of hundred more pages of such writing, read this book. If it inspired you to Google Steve Martin's frenzied rant on how not everything is an anecdote, don't.