THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR by Marja Mills

October 28, 2014

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Life with Harper Lee

narrated by Amy Lynn Stewart

This is the latest biography of the reclusive author and an interesting look at her life. Marja Mills went to Monroeville, Alabama as had so many journalists before her, but for some reason Alice Lee, Harper’s sister, took a liking to her. Perhaps it was because she wasn’t being pushy. Perhaps it was because Chicago had chosen  To Kill a Mockingbird for their one read program, and had sent Marja to get a story. Or perhaps she felt empathy for the lupus-stricken journalist. Whatever the reason, the Lee sisters spent a great deal of time with the author.

So when the book was published and Harper Lee protested, saying they never gave permission, it seemed rather unlikely. Mills claims that Lee had a stroke in 2007, resulting in memory issues, which seems the more believable explanation. Mills rented the house next door to the Lees, with their recommendation to the landlord. Harper’s friends spent lots of time with Mills, while other journalists and would-be biographers were given the cold shoulder. With that said, the book is no gossip fest, but rather a nuanced look at the life of one of America’s most cherished authors.

The sour relationship with Truman Capote is lightly touched upon, as was Harper’s fond regard for Gregory Peck, who played Atticus Finch in the film version, but this is no celebrity tell all, and that is probably a good thing. Lee fiercely guards her privacy, but is no recluse – she lived a full life, dining at local restaurants,  feeding the ducks, and enjoying her friends until she had her stroke. She did live in both New York City and Alabama, and this book doesn’t touch on the NY experience much.

The narrator did a fine job differentiating between the various characters, and I especially loved her portrayal of Alice and Harper. Other than the constant gloating about actually spending time with Harper Lee (and really, who can blame her) it was an interesting and illuminating read about one of my favorite authors.

10/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE MOCKINGBIRD NEXT DOOR: Life with Harper Lee by Marja Mills. Penguin Audio (November 4, 2014). ASIN: B00L83I7B2. Listening Length: 8 hours and 11 minutes


ANGRY OPTIMIST by Lisa Rogak

October 4, 2014

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The Life and Times of Jon Stewart

Narrated by Cassandra Campbell

I am a long time fan of Jon Stewart so I was delighted to come across this new biography. I learned that his real name is Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz and he changed it after a comedy club introduction was botched, then legally changed it after he got married. I learned a tiny bit about his wife, and a little about his childhood. I definitely get the feeling that this is an unauthorized biography – the only quotes are from a few former employees and critics.

The vast majority of the book is a look at Stewart’s career, which can more easily be obtained from imdb.com or Wikipedia. I found some of the information given repetitive at times, and at least in one instance, completely inaccurate (no book can reach the New York Times bestseller list in one week; they compile two weeks of sales before placing on the list.)

Rogak presents Stewart for half the book as insecure but hard working, and then skews towards overbearing, demanding and still hard working. I have to say that I didn’t love this book. It really didn’t shed a whole lot of light on much in the way of personal information; she claims repeatedly that Stewart is a very private person, so that is understandable. But if you want to trace his career, it’s all in there. All that said, I’m not sorry I read it by any means, so I would suggest it for diehard fans. It is not the juicy celebrity bio, the type that often lingers on the bestseller lists.

Finally, I didn’t love the narrator of this book. I found her tone unnecessarily snarky much of the time.

10/14 Stacy Alesi

ANGRY OPTIMIST by Lisa Rogak. Thomas Dunne Books (September 9, 2014). ISBN 978-1250014443. 288p.
Audiobook on CD: Tantor Audio; MP3 – Unabridged CD edition (September 9, 2014). ISBN 978-1494555559. Listening Length: 6 hours and 16 minutes