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The She Said/She Said of the Mockingbird Next Door

Until the brouhaha bubbled up to the surface, I wanted to read the new book by Marja Mills called The Mockingbird Next Door about living next to Harper Lee.  The journalist rented the house next door to Lee and formed a friendship with the author and her sister, Alice.  She claims that she had their blessing in writing the book.  Harper Lee says that she cut off the relationship once she realized Mills’s intentions; that she had moved next door specifically to write this book.

And now it comes down to a round of she said/she said.


Image: Jose Sa via Flickr

Either Lee encouraged the relationship and book, and then pulled back at some point, insisting she never agreed to an intimate biography (effectively wasting Mill’s time and money) or Mills wormed her way into Lee’s life for her own curiosity and gain and exploited a woman’s trust in order to write the book she wanted to write.  Either situation leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I was set to refrain from reading on that alone, not knowing the truth.

But the ChickieNob pointed out another reason not to read the book.  That no matter how curious we are, no matter how much we think the academic world could gain by having the author speak about her work, no matter how much we feel we’re owed something because we gave Lee’s book our attention and accolades, Lee should be afforded privacy.  She’s asked for it.  She clearly wants it.  To invade that is to disrespect her; a violation.

The best way you can show your love for the work and the person who wrote it is to follow her lead and do as she requests.  So I’m not going to read Mills’s book.  Even though I am so curious to hear what she has to say about her own work.

Are you going to read Mills’s book?  Would you read a biography where the subject is so clearly against having their story out there?  And in that way, how is it any different from reading someone’s diary without their permission?


1 a { 07.17.14 at 9:31 am }

Given Lee’s well-known penchant for staying out of the limelight, I sort of believe that she did not authorize Mills to write this book. But you never know – people do strange things sometimes. And while I am curious about the book…I believe the ChickieNob has it right. In the same way I don’t read tabloids, I will give this book a pass. At least until it’s a long-forgetten, falling-apart remnant on my library shelves, anyway. Then I might read it.

2 Mel { 07.17.14 at 9:49 am }

I would consider getting it out of the library, but not now. I don’t know when I would be comfortable doing so, but it would be far down the line.

3 torthuil { 07.17.14 at 3:51 pm }

Sometimes it feels like everybody and her dog is pursuing some form of trashy celebrity. With that in mind, I think anyone who desires and asks for privacy should be respected, if for nothing else than having some perspective on what is important in life. 🙂 So I agree with ChickieNob – let the book pass.

4 Queenie { 07.17.14 at 9:52 pm }

Me, too. Who knows what happened. Given Lee’s age, dementia is a real possibility. But even if she gave her blessing and now doesn’t think she did, she’s clearly distressed by it, and that’s enough for me. No book.

5 Persnickety { 07.18.14 at 4:12 am }

Probably wouldn’t read it now. But if it had been written 50 years ago, about someone who has been dead for 40 years, I would be more likely to. I find people’s diaries interesting, but usually only after they are no longer living. And letters.
That said, I am unlikely to read this at all. Usually these books are more about the experiences of the writer than the subject and I am not such a fan of that.

6 Lynn { 07.21.14 at 11:48 am }

I probably won’t read the book because, whatever the initial arrangement or lack thereof, Lee clearly has no desire for the invasion. Therefore, I will respect her and abstain from reading.

However, it does bring to the forefront of my mind the question that, if we respect the privacy of authors/artists/others who don’t wish to be exposed to the scrutiny of the public, shouldn’t the same courtesy should be afforded to celebrities with regards to photos, particularly photos of their children or honeymoons? So often the entertainment media gives no thought to the privacy of celebrities. My question, then, has to be how many of us purchase magazines such as People or Star or any of the other entertainment magazines? Isn’t this the same thing?

7 Mel { 07.21.14 at 12:11 pm }

The only thing I think is different is that Lee was in her own home, away from the spotlight. And People magazine features celebrities at events. Except when they publish pictures by paparazzi, and then they’re over the line. But I assume that if you are attending an event that you know it is possible that you will be photographed on the red carpet, etc.

But yeah, I’m totally guilty of buying People magazine which invades people’s privacy.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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