By the time Michelle Obama’s book was published in November 2018, I’d gotten a part-time position at my dream job: I was FINALLY working as a bookseller in a bookstore. A few weeks had passed since I’d started, so I was still getting familiar with the process for books we weren’t allowed to sell before a specified date although customers would visit and call the store often asking “Is it there yet? Can I come by for a copy? Do you have it?”
It was the same with Obama’s book. There was a buildup of great excitement and expectation for her autobiography. People couldn’t wait to get it in their hands, and on the day it was released, we were sold out in minutes. Whenever we received another stack of books, they’d be gone in moments, sometimes before they even got on the shelves. It was even worse around Christmas time as people bought copies for themselves, friends, and family and would place five or 10 copies on hold at a time — all Christmas gifts, everyone in the family getting a copy. I also bought more than one copy. I bought one for myself and gave another to my aunt.
As usual, I didn’t immediately begin reading Obama’s autobiography when I got it. I don’t read many biographies, autobiographies, or even memoirs, and when I do, they’re never about political figures. I’m not a fan of politics, and I always mistrust political figures. But I liked the Obamas and really admired Michelle Obama. I loved her personality. What convinced me to finally purchase her autobiography was an interview she did with Oprah where she spoke about her book, growing up in Chicago, and her time as First Lady. I got curious. I wanted to know more. Furthermore, I loved how relatable Obama was in the interview. She seemed to just “tell it like it is” even when she was trying to be tactful or hold back a bit on some things, she came across as honest. I thought to myself, “I need to read her book.” And I’m glad I did.
Nonfiction — autobiography
Quick note: I usually refer to authors by their last name (as I did above), but to avoid confusion, I’ll refer to the Obamas by their first names below.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
Alongside her husband, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. She was the first Black woman to be First Lady. Her husband was the first Black man to be President of the United States. The couple’s daughters Malia and Sasha grew up in the White House, entering as kids and leaving as young women embarking on their own life journeys.
During their time in the White House, while Barack focused on managing the country, Michelle ensured the well-being of their family while effecting changes of her own in the country. She pushed for healthier lunches for kids at school, sought to show the importance of the arts in kids’ lives, and brought more awareness to education for women and minorities.
Becoming, Michelle’s autobiography, speaks about this and her other experiences as First Lady at the White House. Separated into three parts — Becoming Me, Becoming Us, Becoming More, — her autobiography also delves into her upbringing, her education at Princeton and career as a lawyer, and marriage to Barack: all the components of her life that led to her becoming who she is today and who she’s still becoming. (Goodreads)
“My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice.”
Inspiring and insightful, Becoming was a great read that had such a relatable tone throughout that it lends itself to a feeling of genuineness and honesty, which I appreciated. Michelle was as frank as she could possibly be but tactful as well. She talks about her achievements, disappointments, failures, and blunders and was so open about it all that I felt that I got to know her a little better by reading her book. Her humor helped to make her book more personable and suffused it with warmth that added to the feeling of sincerity.
The flow of her writing leans toward storytelling, which made it easier for me to become engrossed in the book (and made me wonder if Michelle would consider writing novels). However, she is such an iconic figure now that despite the storytelling aspect of Becoming, I never became enchanted by it. I was always aware that I was reading about someone real, the person who wrote the book. This isn’t a negative, but it is a little different from my experiences with bios, autobios, and memoirs so far. Most times, I get so caught up in the storytelling that for a time I’d forget that everything I’m reading happened to the person or was done by the person writing the book.
“To me, Southside was as big as heaven. And heaven, as I envisioned it, had to be a place full of Jazz.”
Dividing the book into its three parts helps to make it an easy read and gives the reader a simple timeline and format to follow. We begin with Becoming Me, where we learn about Michelle’s humble beginning in Chicago and how determined she was as a child to succeed at whatever she pursued, a trait that continued into adulthood. We see her enter high school and excel to attend Princeton, despite a guidance counsellor’s attempt to dissuade her from doing so, and study to become a lawyer. We learn about close friends and family along the way who greatly influenced her and motivated her to keep on becoming, and the great contributions of her parents to ensure Michelle and her brother succeed.
“I understand now that even a happy marriage can be a vexation, that it’s a contract best renewed and renewed again, even quietly and privately — even alone.”
Becoming Us shows readers how Michelle and Barack worked at their relationship to create a solid foundation. Here, Michelle talks about their courtship and marriage and later difficulties having children. She also talks about her career, realizing she wanted to switch from law, and having to juggle a demanding job while managing her household and raising her kids. She talks about how Barack’s also demanding job affected their family and how they worked to maintain strong ties in their relationship and family despite such demands, and touches on Barack’s bid for presidency, her dislike for politics, and her doubts, at first, about Barack’s chances, and his eventually win.
In Becoming More, Michelle talks about her experiences as First Lady and how drastically her life changed because of it. We learn about the sacrifices her family made while living in the White House under heavy protection, difficulties she encountered as she tried to ensure that her daughters have normal childhood and teenage experiences despite their unique circumstance, as well as the projects she took on as First Lady to effect change in her own way and to carve out a niche for herself separate from Barack and his office.
It all made for an amazing read that I appreciated more and more as I went along. Although I took four months to complete it (I got distracted by a bunch of fantasy books, lol), it was a compelling read that kept me interested every time I picked it up. I only have one minor complaint and that’s for the last section, Becoming More, which included much about Barack when I wanted it to focus only on Michelle. But it makes sense since Barack’s position as president carries so much weight that it eclipses many of those close to it, which Michelle touches on in Becoming.
It’s a good read that I highly recommend.
Well-written, inspiring, and compelling. I highly recommend Michelle’s Becoming if you’re curious about her background or time as First Lady, if you just want to know how this amazing woman thinks and what she cares most about, or just want a book that will motivate you to continue pushing at your goals. Definitely give Becoming a try.
Buy | Borrow | Bypass
It’s worth Buying.
Quotes from the book:
“Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”
“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”
“There’s no hurrying a bus ride, I can tell you. You get on and you endure.”