Merry Wanderer of the Night + to kill a mockingbird

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

I read Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee

as a companion to To Kill a Mockingbird for the 50th Anniversary. Harper Lee doesn't give interviews anymore so this biography was done entirely from interviews Charles J. Shields did with people who knew Harper Lee and from information he could find from the time period involving her. It was also, basically, done without Harper Lee's permission although the fact that the book is out shows me that she doesn't have a huge problem with it. The biography is made up of ten chapters that begin with Harper Lee's childhood to the point where she quit giving interviews and some more present day stories of her. When I first started the biography I was surprised by how novel-like Shields managed to make it. He did a great job setting up the scene of Harper Lee as a child living in a small town called Monroeville, Alabama. While most of the images were probably created by Shields himself I think there was still some truth in them.

What really amazed me about this book was how much of To Kill a Mockingbird is based on Harper Lee's own life. Her father was a lawyer and the character of Atticus is loosely based on him. Scout is really based on Harper Lee herself, who was a tomboy and had a quick mouth as a child. Dill is based on Harper Lee's childhood friend Truman Capote who was also handed around to relatives like a bowl of mashed potatoes and was a bit eccentric as a child. What I gathered from the book is that the case in the book is based off a couple of cases and experiences Harper Lee had as a child. It was really interesting for me to finish To Kill a Mockingbird and then move on to this book because I saw where so many of the ideas came from. Shields also pulls out quotes from the book and since I'd just finished it I could remember exactly where the quotations came from which gave them a little more context in the biography.

Harper Lee attended University of Alabama where she was a writer and editor on a school publication called the Rammer Jammer. While this section was interesting because I got to see some early writing of Harper Lee's I think it dragged on a bit too long. There is also a section about Harper Lee's involvement in the research of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood, which at first is fascinating but turns into a big yawn rather quickly. It's 45 pages! The book is only 280-some pages! I felt like I was reading about Truman Capote and not about Harper Lee for 1/5 of the book. I think that chapter was necessary but really needed to be weeded down. The portrait I came away with was not very different from the portrait I had going into the book, but it was nice to read the story of how To Kill a Mockingbird came to be. There is one point in the biography where Shields makes the suggestion that Harper Lee might be a bit of a one-trick pony. She was asked to submit a short story to a magazine and wrote what sounded like a short story version of To Kill a Mockingbird. He uses this as a possible suggestion for why she has never published a book since To Kill a Mockingbird. I thought this was an interesting idea although I think a lot of authors write similar stories in multiple books.

I give this biography a C.

I am an Amazon Affiliate. If you make a purchase using one of my links I will earn a small percentage which will then go back into this blog.

biography, book review, LIFE, novel, TIME, and more:

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee + to kill a mockingbird