It has finally happened.
In two years, I have read every damn book I have started cover to cover-- even the bad ones. And there have been some bad ones. One that I picked up in a grocery store check out line. One that was the third book in an absurdist series and I had no clue what I was reading. A total shit show about some un-ironic Stepford town in Colorado where men were concerned for the modesty of their daughters.
But that streak of reading everything that is put before me is OVER.
I could not finish The Mockingbird Next Door: My Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills. I wanted to like this book. Who doesn't love To Kill a Mockingbird? Who isn't totally into literary figures who crack under the pressure of their potential and retreat from the public eye? Okay, maybe that one is less universal, but I am into those figures for sure. And this book is even surrounded by scandal.
The book is about a Chicago Tribune writer (Mills) who interviews Harper Lee's sister and friends for a 2002 article series to commemorate To Kill a Mockingbird being chosen as the city of Chicago's common reading book. Unlike legions of journalists who have come before her, this writer becomes friends with Harper and Alice Lee and moves in next door to them. (WTF?) She writes a book about her friendship with them, and then Harper Lee denies that she cooperated with the author, and Mills publishes her book anyway.
Sounds good, right?
Wrong. It is horrible. So, so, so boring. But I can take boring if I know the book is going someplace great. About 10 days and only a scant 100 pages into the book, though, I started wondering where, exactly, it was going. So I did a little Googling and found this scathing and sadly accurate New York Times review.
Here's the most wonderful paragraph of the review:
“The Mockingbird Next Door” conjured mostly sad images in my mind. Ms. Lee has a regular booth at McDonald’s, where she goes for coffee. She eats takeout salads from Burger King on movie night. When she fishes, she uses wieners for bait. She feeds the town ducks daily, with seed corn from a plastic Cool Whip Free container, calling “Woo-hoo-HOO! Woo-hoo-HOO!” Somehow learning all this is worse than it would be to learn that she steals money from a local orphanage."
And then there's this:
Reading this book put me in mind of a rare public appearance Ms. Lee made in Alabama in 2007. “It’s better to be silent,” she told an audience, “than to be a fool.”
Such a frustrating book. It should be so fascinating, and maybe in the hands of a different writer it would be.