Friday, July 22, 2011

Review: Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper LeeMockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think this is a solid biographical account of Harper Lee. I don't know that I really knew much about her beyond her having written an amazing novel and then stepping out of sight. I vaguely knew of her relationship with Truman Capote and their work together on In Cold Blood but I didn't have any context or details on it. This portrait of Harper Lee was enlightening in that respect but it still didn't go very deep into her life. Although I suspect that the lack of depth is due to the extreme privacy that Harper Lee lives her life in. Although the author was able to interview a lot of people about her, I'm not sure that he had the insider view that would have been necessary to make this book anything more than a satisfactory biography. It's solid. It's good. It's interesting. But, it didn't go as far as I suspect most of us would have liked.

The most compelling things for me after reading this book -

1. How much of her own life she used when writing To Kill A Mockingbird. I had no idea. I knew she grew up in a similar place but I had no idea how much she really leveraged!

2. Her relationship with Truman Capote. Wow. He was something else! The story of their friendship and its projectory over their lives was fascinating.

3. I found that I liked what I learned of Harper Lee much more than I'd expected - she appears (based on the account of her in this book) to be a feisty, intelligent, complex and kind woman. The kind of women that I like. A woman that I'd like to know.

4. I better understand WHY she may not have written another novel. Although that isn't solved per se, it is better understood after acknowledging her experiences with Mockingbird (the book and movie) and In Cold Blood. I can certainly understand her desire for privacy and her decision to remove herself from public life (for the most part).

In the end, I wanted to go sit and have a cup of coffee with Harper Lee. She seems like a person that I would enjoy knowing. I have an even greater respect for her and the novel that she wrote. Her novel is an American classic for a reason.

The writing of Charles J. Shields is clunky and ultimately made the reading experience drag on a bit. It took almost 10 days for me to get through it which is a very long time for me. Particularly since it isn't a long book. It just felt very dense and clunky to me. I enjoyed it, in the end, but getting there was sometimes a chore.

If you love her novel and want to know more about her, her life, and perhaps get a glimpse into what she's chosen to do, this is definitely something you may enjoy. You have to push through the writing at times which isn't something that I would recommend to someone who isn't a fan of her novel or interested in her life.

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