Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields was written without the permission of or with any input from Nelle Harper Lee, yet still managed to present an in-depth, respectful view of the life of the famously private author.
The biography talks about the author’s life, providing details about her upbringing, family, friends and her writing, using anecdotes sourced from written materials along with personal ones from those who were willing to speak to Charles J. Shields, knowing that Harper Lee would not approve of their doing so.
The stories about Harper Lee’s upbringing were fascinating, even to how she fit into her family. I was very interested to learn about her childhood friendship with Truman Capote and of the enormous amount of assistance she gave him while they carried out research in Kansas for his book, In Cold Blood.
I was unaware that so much of To Kill a Mockingbird was based on what Harper Lee actually knew and experienced. Interestingly, she called her father by his first name, just as Scout and Jem called their father Atticus. Similarly, Harper Lee’s mother was mentally ill and was emotionally and physically unavailable to her children, so it made sense for the children in her book to be motherless.
The biggest question of all for most readers, of why she never write another book was fully addressed, too.
Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee provides an interesting view of Harper Lee’s personality, influences and values without feeling intrusive.