While we were at the beach, I read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields – it was really, really good. At first, I was hestitant to buy it, because everyone knows that Nelle Lee (she’s really “Nelle” to people that know her. We have a friend in Selma whose book was published with a review by her on the back cover, and when we were talking about it, I learned that she used her middle name for TKAM because she didn’t want people to think her name was pronounced “Nellie”) enjoys her privacy.
When I first heard that this portrait of her was being published, I didn’t get it because I imagined that some writer went out and was worrying her at home – she is famous for responding to interview and public appearances with a two word reply: “Hell No!” – but after reading some of the reviews, I understood that this book was more about things like why she never wrote a second book than bothering her or making her out to be a hermit. So I bought it.
Like most anyone that has read TKAM (and seriously loved it) I’ve wondered why she only gave us one book, and this biography of her gives those reasons – from relationships and timing not working out to what had to be a feeling of ‘what can you possibly put out that will even come close?’. The parts about her relationship and work with Truman Capote were really good, and I enjoyed learning a little more about her family background and her sister Alice, who is the oldest practicing female attorney in Alabama (there’s a story about Alice’s birthday party last week here from the Mobile Register).
The last several years, though, are really breezed through at the end of the book – but hopefully that was the author’s way of respecting her privacy. If so, I can really appreciate that.