Summer Reading: Mockingbird

MillsI thoroughly enjoyed the slow Southern pace of Marja Mills’ new book The Mockingbird Next Door and her experiences with the reclusive author Harper Lee. Here is one of my favorite vignettes from that book.

Ms. Mills was frustrated by one-channel, static-filled TV reception in Monroeville, Alabama. And, she could not find an NPR (National Public Radio) station on her transistor radio. She asked around but no one offered a solution to her problem. Then one day she heard the distinct voices of NPR coming from her neighbor’s kitchen. She discovered the secret was a powerful rooftop antennae that could pickup radio signals from a station 150 miles away.

A friend offered an alternative solution. He told Ms. Mills to hold the transistor radio against her rib cage and point it’s small antenna toward her backyard. So, that night she stretched out on her bed, “tuned in the radio, rested it on my ribs with my left hand, and, with my other hand, pointed the long silver antenna over my right shoulder toward… my backyard…”

To her amazement, it worked. “I listened to the smooth, low-key voice of a news commentator out of Tuscaloosa. Hardly any static, and a familiar lilt to the radio host’s voice…The accent was different here but the slightly professorial, low-key intonation, the NPR-ness, was familiar…I lay on the bed, luxuriating in the static-free reception as the radio rose and fell softly on my ribs. I’d be able to get Fresh Air (a regular NPR feature) this way at last. Problem was, I had to stay like that or I lost the reception. The position got old in a hurry.”

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills, The Penguin Press, 2014.


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