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Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee    by Charles J. Shields order for
by Charles J. Shields
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2016 (2006)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Kerrily Sapet

According to a 1991 survey by the Book-of-the-Month-Club, the book To Kill A Mockingbird ranked second only to the Bible as 'making a difference in readers' lives.' Even forty-six years after its initial publication the novel draws nearly a million readers annually. Yet despite the book's immense popularity little is known about its author, Harper Lee. With the recent biography Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee, writer Charles J. Shields seeks to uncover some of the mystery surrounding the famed author.

Lee's life has been as private as she can make it, despite the media sensation her book created. For a short time after the book's publication she granted interviews, but then she routinely began to turn away reporters. Lee retired more and more frequently to her hometown of Monroeville, Alabama. Fans have always wondered why she never wrote another book. Now Shields, a former English teacher, has documented Lee's life from her early beginnings to her current situation. He follows her youth as a rebellious tomboy, similar to her beloved character Scout, and her friendship and work with Truman Capote. Shields tracks down numerous friends, college sorority sisters, editors, and Mockingbird fans, and interviews them all to create a deeper picture of Lee. However, Lee herself refused to grant him any interviews during the course of his writing the book.

For those who love To Kill A Mockingbird it is interesting to watch Lee's book develop and to see her own life woven between the pages. Shields reminds readers of many of the touching passages in the book. One can't help but feeling though that by reading her biography we are invading her intense desire for privacy. Somehow by peeking into her life and conversations, it feels as if we are doing precisely what Lee does not want us to do, such as when Shields writes an introduction and quotes Lee who once said, 'As a reader I loathe introductions.' Even so, as a longtime Mockingbird lover I enjoyed getting a deeper insight into one of the great classics. Remembering Boo Radley, Atticus, Jem and Scout, and learning more about their creation in the hands of a skillful biographer was a fascinating read.

2nd Review by Mary Ann Smyth:

Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is considered 'the twentieth century's most widely read American novel'. It has sold thirty million copies worldwide and still sells a million yearly! In 2006, an in-depth biography by Charles J. Shields reached into Harper Lee's life and presented the woman to us.

This new edition of the biography is extensively revised and updated, 'reframed from the perspective of the recent publication of Lee's Go Set a Watchman'. It addresses Lee's life, her writing, her friends, her family, her relationship with Truman Capote, and ultimately her death.

According to Shields, Harper Lee was a crusty personality. Hard to deal with at times and very set in her ways. She disliked publicity tours. Wanted to live her life in her own wayo and not pay attention to adoring fans. Or the money the sale of her book earned. Her sister Alice kept her paperwork up-to-date. Alice's death was a great blow to Harper.

Truman Capote was a childhood friend. That friendship blossomed into a platonic relationship in adulthood. She backed him in everything he did including writing a good bit of In Cold Blood. She was a true friend to him even though it sounds as though he was very jealous of her fame. Prodded for years to write another book, she fought that project. Eventually she penned another that became the book of the year - Go Set a Watchman.

To Kill a Mockingbird helped raise awareness of racial problems in the United States and made household words of Atticus and Scout. I would have liked to have known her.

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