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Chasing the Mockingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind

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Chasing the Mockingbird is the story of my collapse into mental illness while doing research for a book about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in how a writer works, or new information about Harper Lee, or a personal struggle with mental illness, you might enjoy my book. I had a life-long fascination with Harper Lee and Mockingbird because I grew Chasing the Mockingbird is the story of my collapse into mental illness while doing research for a book about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in how a writer works, or new information about Harper Lee, or a personal struggle with mental illness, you might enjoy my book. I had a life-long fascination with Harper Lee and Mockingbird because I grew up 40 miles from her hometown of Monroeville in south Alabama. She knew my parents. Her fame convinced me to become a writer and I joyously reported for 10 years at The Birmingham News. I began on the copy desk, going to work at 4 a.m. Later, as education reporter I delved into stories with a passion that veered toward the edge of sanity. After I left The News to become a stay-at-home mom, my interest in Ms. Lee became an obsession with tracing her path to fame. I take readers on a (literally) manic romp to New York where, in the archives of the public library, I read notes she had written, and to Monroeville, where I got locked in the famed courthouse. I spent weeks of frantic calls and faxes to set up a phone call with Gregory Peck, who rarely granted interviews, about his most-loved part. When this project had brought me to a point of near exhaustion, my schizophrenic brother, in a mental institution’s halfway house, was diagnosed with lung cancer at 48. I desperately tried to find a place for him to die in peace. I succeeded, but at a terrible price. As he gasped his last breath it was as though he had put his hand on my arm and said, “It’s your turn to be crazy now.” Madness quietly took me into his world of delusions and paranoia. I plunged into depression then soared into mania. I landed on a locked ward, facing my own commitment hearing. Antipsychotic drugs pulled me back to reality – twice. And what if side effects of high cholesterol and diabetes develop? My psychiatrist said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."


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Chasing the Mockingbird is the story of my collapse into mental illness while doing research for a book about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in how a writer works, or new information about Harper Lee, or a personal struggle with mental illness, you might enjoy my book. I had a life-long fascination with Harper Lee and Mockingbird because I grew Chasing the Mockingbird is the story of my collapse into mental illness while doing research for a book about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in how a writer works, or new information about Harper Lee, or a personal struggle with mental illness, you might enjoy my book. I had a life-long fascination with Harper Lee and Mockingbird because I grew up 40 miles from her hometown of Monroeville in south Alabama. She knew my parents. Her fame convinced me to become a writer and I joyously reported for 10 years at The Birmingham News. I began on the copy desk, going to work at 4 a.m. Later, as education reporter I delved into stories with a passion that veered toward the edge of sanity. After I left The News to become a stay-at-home mom, my interest in Ms. Lee became an obsession with tracing her path to fame. I take readers on a (literally) manic romp to New York where, in the archives of the public library, I read notes she had written, and to Monroeville, where I got locked in the famed courthouse. I spent weeks of frantic calls and faxes to set up a phone call with Gregory Peck, who rarely granted interviews, about his most-loved part. When this project had brought me to a point of near exhaustion, my schizophrenic brother, in a mental institution’s halfway house, was diagnosed with lung cancer at 48. I desperately tried to find a place for him to die in peace. I succeeded, but at a terrible price. As he gasped his last breath it was as though he had put his hand on my arm and said, “It’s your turn to be crazy now.” Madness quietly took me into his world of delusions and paranoia. I plunged into depression then soared into mania. I landed on a locked ward, facing my own commitment hearing. Antipsychotic drugs pulled me back to reality – twice. And what if side effects of high cholesterol and diabetes develop? My psychiatrist said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it."

30 review for Chasing the Mockingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Holahan

    I was drawn to this book because I enjoyed "To Kill A Mockingbird" and did learn some interesting facts about Harper Lee that the author learned through her own personal connections. Because this book is so personal to Ms. Bouler's own psychological issues as well her brother's, it seems like a great book for someone who might have the same disorders or be interested in mental health issues such as paranoid/schizophrenic/ OCD behavior. I laud anyone who is willing to share this personal experien I was drawn to this book because I enjoyed "To Kill A Mockingbird" and did learn some interesting facts about Harper Lee that the author learned through her own personal connections. Because this book is so personal to Ms. Bouler's own psychological issues as well her brother's, it seems like a great book for someone who might have the same disorders or be interested in mental health issues such as paranoid/schizophrenic/ OCD behavior. I laud anyone who is willing to share this personal experience and I truly felt Ms. Bouler's pain and was thrilled for her ultimate triumph. That said, I was not a big fan of the writing style -- there were redundancies and typos and way too much foreshadowing. Perhaps this is more the fault of an editor rather than writer. In any event this book is certainly worth a read whether you are a big fan of "To Kill A Mockingbird" or want to learn more about a writer's battle with mental health issues while trying to write two books at the same time.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Grady

    ‘I still take Xyprexa and Zoloft. They are my lifelines.’ Alabama author Jean Lufkin Bouler has served as a former for The Birmingham News. She now writes books – her first being EXLORING FLORIDA’S EMERALD COAST and now she offers her audience that difficult task of presenting her memoir that is not only well written and well researched but also one of the more sensitive explorations of mental illness, both in the author’s experience of life and that of her brother. The synopsis Jean offers combi ‘I still take Xyprexa and Zoloft. They are my lifelines.’ Alabama author Jean Lufkin Bouler has served as a former for The Birmingham News. She now writes books – her first being EXLORING FLORIDA’S EMERALD COAST and now she offers her audience that difficult task of presenting her memoir that is not only well written and well researched but also one of the more sensitive explorations of mental illness, both in the author’s experience of life and that of her brother. The synopsis Jean offers combines the significance of her biographical data as well as a fine overview of the book’s journey. ‘CHASING THE MOCKINGBIRD BIRD is the story of my collapse into mental illness while doing research for a book about Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird. If you're interested in how a writer works, or new information about Harper Lee, or a personal struggle with mental illness, you might enjoy my book. I had a life-long fascination with Harper Lee and Mockingbird because I grew up 40 miles from her hometown of Monroeville in south Alabama. She knew my parents. Her fame convinced me to become a writer and I joyously reported for 10 years at The Birmingham News. I began on the copy desk, going to work at 4 a.m. Later, as education reporter I delved into stories with a passion that veered toward the edge of sanity. After I left The News to become a stay-at-home mom, my interest in Ms. Lee became an obsession with tracing her path to fame. I take readers on a (literally) manic romp to New York where, in the archives of the public library, I read notes she had written, and to Monroeville, where I got locked in the famed courthouse. I spent weeks of frantic calls and faxes to set up a phone call with Gregory Peck, who rarely granted interviews, about his most-loved part. When this project had brought me to a point of near exhaustion, my schizophrenic brother, in a mental institution’s halfway house, was diagnosed with lung cancer at 48. I desperately tried to find a place for him to die in peace. I succeeded, but at a terrible price. As he gasped his last breath it was as though he had put his hand on my arm and said, “It’s your turn to be crazy now.” Madness quietly took me into his world of delusions and paranoia. I plunged into depression then soared into mania. I landed on a locked ward, facing my own commitment hearing. Antipsychotic drugs pulled me back to reality – twice. And what if side effects of high cholesterol and diabetes develop? My psychiatrist said, "We'll cross that bridge when we come to it." Jean’s immersive writing pulls the reader into the book and into the mind of the author in a well place and paced Preface: ‘I walked along the railroad track in the wee hours of the morning of January 17, 1997 in what seemed like the middle of nowhere. I gazed at the black sky filled with bright stars and felt exhilarated that I was saving my husband Nick and daughter Alissa. The CIA would not kill them now that I had left home. I pushed my hands deeper into the pockets of my long black wool coat, my breath frosting in the frigid air. The lights of a plane far overhead signaled that I was being protected. After a time, the ground on each side of the track fell away, down a steep embankment but I didn’t pay much attention. I should have but I was caught up in the thrill of running away. I thought of the policeman in a gas station convenience store who hours before had said he hoped no one was without shelter because the forecast called for it to be the coldest night of the year. Temperatures would plunge into the teens, he said. I was freezing, but was desperate. Lives were at stake. I raised my arms to the sky and twirled around, exuberant that Nick and Alissa were at last safe. My fear that they would be harmed was justified. I had caused my dear brother’s death four months earlier.’ It is that quality of writing that accompanies our compassion and fascination with the ability of the author to create not only a fine memoir, but in also allowing us to understand the vagaries of mental illness with all the permutations of that life alteration that confound most of us. This is a fine book and a memorable one.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lydia Wallace

    This is a very good book. I enjoyed Jean sharing all the fun she had with her brother as they grew up in a small town. I could just feel the love and closeness of Jean's family. It made me want to be a kid again growing up in her childhood. Jean's father was so excited to find a book that a friend in their town had written. I think since Jean's father loved this book so much, she wanted to do research on Ms. Lee and find out all could about how she decided to write this book and what it entailed This is a very good book. I enjoyed Jean sharing all the fun she had with her brother as they grew up in a small town. I could just feel the love and closeness of Jean's family. It made me want to be a kid again growing up in her childhood. Jean's father was so excited to find a book that a friend in their town had written. I think since Jean's father loved this book so much, she wanted to do research on Ms. Lee and find out all could about how she decided to write this book and what it entailed. Jean wanted to write a book about Ms. Lee . Jean is such a devoted writer and landed a job at a newspaper and worked her way up from copy desk to a reporter. I really appreciated all the different feeling I felt thru out this book. I really am happy Jean shared her story about mental illness hoping she could help others. I deal with anxiety and depression and it really made me feel stronger about myself, knowing a lot of people deal with mental illness. I am glad Jean has such a loving family that stood by her. You have to have this book. Jean never gives up traveling all over and tirelessly collecting information to write two books at once. Even getting an interview with Gregory Peck. Jean you are a great author and a strong person. You made a change in my life. There is a lot of history in this book, sadness, happiness and success. I love the funny stories about her when she was young and her family was going to have a turkey farm, but the baby turkeys arrived before the cages were built. They had to put them in bedrooms in the house and feed them by a dropper. It is interesting how Jean's mental issues send her on a scary journey, but she survived with the help of medication and her family. Hugs to you Jean. You are the greatest.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Stacy Spoonster

    Chasing the Mockingbird In many ways this was a hard book for me to read. I found myself getting caught up in Bouler's obsession with Harper Lee. Man, OCD sucks. The book itself is well written, open and honest. It's not easy to take such a long hard look at yourself and then showing the world what you see. The book often takes on a frantic pace as the author falls deeper and deeper into her obsession. It is an all too familiar feeling. I applaud Boiler for her candor on such a deeply personal su Chasing the Mockingbird In many ways this was a hard book for me to read. I found myself getting caught up in Bouler's obsession with Harper Lee. Man, OCD sucks. The book itself is well written, open and honest. It's not easy to take such a long hard look at yourself and then showing the world what you see. The book often takes on a frantic pace as the author falls deeper and deeper into her obsession. It is an all too familiar feeling. I applaud Boiler for her candor on such a deeply personal subject. My only complaint would be the constant "foreshadowing." She talks about how things would be a mistake or have terrible consequences . To me, it read a little bit like the vague posts made on Facebook with no explanation and meant to garner sympathy. Yeah, we all have that one friend. Please note, I am not trying to belittle the very real experiences of the author. It's just that those constant enigmatic statements just seemed off to me. They really weren't necessary for the overall narrative. That being said, I would highly recommend this book. It is very eye opening for those who have never experienced mental illness and comforting for those that have to know that they are not alone.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Goth Gone Grey

    Beautifully awful descent into, and rise from, madness If you're reading this to learn more about Harper Lee or her best seller, you're missing the point. While the author shares what she obsessively learned about the writer and her novel, it's more the author's personal tale that's gripping. She writes in foreshadowing, happiness and delight but the hint of what's to come all too often ending a paragraph. At first I found it irritating - yes, thank you, I heard the thunder in the distance the fi Beautifully awful descent into, and rise from, madness If you're reading this to learn more about Harper Lee or her best seller, you're missing the point. While the author shares what she obsessively learned about the writer and her novel, it's more the author's personal tale that's gripping. She writes in foreshadowing, happiness and delight but the hint of what's to come all too often ending a paragraph. At first I found it irritating - yes, thank you, I heard the thunder in the distance the first time. Reading more, it feels like the author trying both to earn the reader away, and show her dread at sharing her breakdown. An example: "I started down a path that I thought would lead to a joyous, fulfilling new life of writing. If only I had known where that path would lead. I dived into the Harper Lee and the Emerald Coast projects with the zeal of a young reporter yearning for a Pulitzer Prize. “I’m back!” I thought gaily. Nick and Alissa encouraged me though they couldn’t know at the time the price we would all pay. My passion would lead me into a world that even I couldn’t have imagined." Overall a fascinating psychological study towards the end, with family history and mundane life wrapped around it.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Pegboard

    Step back into a world when the most exciting event in your youth is an author, who had family in the small town next to you, has her book published. Jean Lufkin Bouler has such a way of pulling the reader into her life you are half way through the book before you know it. Her life started so simply you would never think she had a mental illness since she will remind you of the girl down the street. Often the author mentions she regrets the path her studies of To Kill a Mockingbird took in her li Step back into a world when the most exciting event in your youth is an author, who had family in the small town next to you, has her book published. Jean Lufkin Bouler has such a way of pulling the reader into her life you are half way through the book before you know it. Her life started so simply you would never think she had a mental illness since she will remind you of the girl down the street. Often the author mentions she regrets the path her studies of To Kill a Mockingbird took in her life. She was just on the brink of the same mental illness her brother was afflicted with when she started her under taking. Her obsession with Harper Lee became insane as she craved more and more information, verging on the edge of lunacy. The two books she was writing began to merge, and Jean felt she was being targeted by the CIA just like her brother did. But just as she was there for her brother, Nick always welcomed her back when she reached sanity again. It wasn’t the fact that Jean finished one of the books that drove her insane, but her husband’s love and acceptance that made this great.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    This book was intense to say the least. The author goes through her experience of having fond memories of her childhood, being in love with the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. She describes her upbringing and entering the world of writing, to dealing with others mental illness, which eventually begins to affect herself. It is a story that at times we can all relate to. Working long hours and putting love and dedication to something we hold so dear. Or trying to help a love one whose reality appea This book was intense to say the least. The author goes through her experience of having fond memories of her childhood, being in love with the book, “To Kill a Mockingbird”. She describes her upbringing and entering the world of writing, to dealing with others mental illness, which eventually begins to affect herself. It is a story that at times we can all relate to. Working long hours and putting love and dedication to something we hold so dear. Or trying to help a love one whose reality appears just beyond our reach. You relate to her, and then feel for her. Trying to grasp how someone who at once seemed ordinary, found herself in unfortunate circumstances. I very much enjoyed reading her story and getting lost in the “writer's world”. It is something I think many writers would find themselves relating to in one way or another. Sadly, I have not read to kill a mockingbird. But I still enjoyed the story and introduction to this very beloved classic.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Valery

    Chasing the Mockingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind by Jean Lufkin Bouler is a heartbreaking memoir of a descent into mental illness. The author paints a vivid picture of growing up in the South, in Alabama, and of her fascination with Harper Lee and the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Her life became consumed with the book. The descriptions of farm life are strong and distinct, you can feel what it was like to be there, even among the dumb turkeys, drowning themselves in their drinking water. Even Chasing the Mockingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind by Jean Lufkin Bouler is a heartbreaking memoir of a descent into mental illness. The author paints a vivid picture of growing up in the South, in Alabama, and of her fascination with Harper Lee and the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird. Her life became consumed with the book. The descriptions of farm life are strong and distinct, you can feel what it was like to be there, even among the dumb turkeys, drowning themselves in their drinking water. Eventually though, her own brother went mad, and the author was not far behind. At times thoughtful, brooding, and emotional, Bouler does a great job of telling her story, giving the reader not only a glimpse into a troubled mind, but a look at getting through mental illness to the other side. Addictive reading that will give you sympathy and compassion for those who suffer, this memoir is highly recommended to everyone.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    A reader's obsession Chasing the Mòckingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind was definitely a pageturner. While not a literary memoir, the author's dogged pursuit of Harper Lee and cast members of the movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" was interesting and suspenseful. I have always loved that novel, and have read a few biographies of Nelle Harper Lee, so I was hoping to hear about conversations with its author or to clear up a few mysteries. I rated this book 4 stars, not for its prose writing s A reader's obsession Chasing the Mòckingbird: A Memoir of a Broken Mind was definitely a pageturner. While not a literary memoir, the author's dogged pursuit of Harper Lee and cast members of the movie version of "To Kill a Mockingbird" was interesting and suspenseful. I have always loved that novel, and have read a few biographies of Nelle Harper Lee, so I was hoping to hear about conversations with its author or to clear up a few mysteries. I rated this book 4 stars, not for its prose writing style or new insights into Harper Lee, which were unremarkable, but for the writer's tale of her obsession and how it triggered her rapid slide into madness. This book illuminates her mental processes and gives credit to the physicians who intervened and the psychiatric medications that restored her.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Calla

    This is an interesting account of the author’s descent into insanity, written against the backdrop of her family connection and research into the life and master work of author Harper Lee. Having the first-hand narrative of what it was like to slide into madness is fascinating and enlightening. It is frightening that it can happen so suddenly, and that her loved ones were so helpless. Excellent work!

  11. 5 out of 5

    George Anne Brown

    Interesting. I have loved the book "To Kill a Mockingbird" for many years. This book details the writer's descent into mental illness as she researched writing a book about it. I gave it 4 stars instead of 5 because it is full of cryptic comments throughout regarding her eventual insanity. She seems to be teasing the reader. However, the book is very interesting and I enjoyed reading it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    San

    Very personal description of mental illnesses. Helpful for patients and caregivers. I found the writing somewhat difficult to like.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Tenney

    Absolutely amazing book! Really showcases the affect of mental illness on someone!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Rona

    Interesting What a disturbing story! How easily delusions took over the author's life. This memoir shares her sad story. The insider's view of her thinking is really frightening.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mary Hardina

  16. 5 out of 5

    Liz

  17. 5 out of 5

    patty andersen

  18. 5 out of 5

    GLORIA BUCKELS

  19. 4 out of 5

    patrick b carey

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sharyn

  21. 5 out of 5

    Fergus

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg Van Vorhis

  23. 4 out of 5

    betty w durham

  24. 5 out of 5

    Diane Stooksberry

  25. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen Flynn

  26. 4 out of 5

    Ann T. Walsh

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lee

  28. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Sellors

  29. 5 out of 5

    Suzi Stewart

  30. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Gaona

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