BOOK REVIEW

“Becoming” by Michelle Obama. New York: Crown Publishing, 2018. 720 pages, $34.50 (paperback) $35.71 (audiobook).

“In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era. As first lady of the United States of America – the first African American to serve in that role – she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare. In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her – from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address. With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it – in her own words and on her own terms. Warm, wise, and revelatory, ‘Becoming’ is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations – and whose story inspires us to do the same.” (Book’s description)

I had been curious about this book since it came out, and I wish I had taken the time to read it sooner. It is one of the most inspiring and empowering autobiographies/memoirs I have ever read. I appreciate more than anything Michelle Obama’s raw honesty about all aspects of her life. Not only does she share that she and Barack Obama went through marriage counseling after he took to politics, but she shows us how hard she worked to keep their life grounded throughout their time in the White House. Michelle Obama also reads the audio version, which in some ways made it even better. However, the print version apparently has some great photographs.

If you are worried about politics, I wouldn’t be. Though, it occasionally creeps into what she is discussing, there is very little direct mention of any politics in this story. Even while discussing campaigning and the issues they faced, she keeps it about her and her family – not the big political game. It was refreshing. Perhaps the most political she gets is toward the end, when talking about their last year or so in office, and Donald Trump’s own campaign and politics.

On that note, although she often avoids highlighting her views on politics in general (which side she falls on, or railing about policies, etc.), she does give unique insight on government and how politics works. We often think about our president and what he is required to do, but little does anyone care what a president’s life may be like day in and day out – nor do they care about the family’s life past what may sell a newspaper here or there. Learning about her time as first lady, and about how they made choices regarding their children, was fascinating. Michelle Obama shares some touching details about their lives, and I think she chooses what she shares well. It highlights the turmoil that anyone in that position must go through, and it also helps us relate to the issues they must face.

The whole book is an example of that. From her childhood to her days as a college student, all the way to meeting Barack, Michelle shows that she is a very gifted storyteller. I always wanted to meet her, but I want to even more after learning about her life. From this book, I learned that Michelle is a to-do list checker. She navigated the path she thought she had to, because she is a checklist, do-the-right-thing kind of person – she doesn’t veer well. I can relate to that. It was funny at times as well, because we learn that Barack veers, and veers often. His veering could often cause them issues, and yet I think it gave Michelle the opportunity to chase her own dreams after realizing that perhaps being a lawyer was not something she really wanted to do.

Michelle and Barack Obama’s marriage is a main feature through this book. As a wife with ambition, it can be hard to pause and think about what my husband needs, and how much he may be doing to support me. Michelle is very clear on the cost that politics sometimes had on their relationship, the long hours that Barack was gone from his home and the amount of time he had to spend working. Also, when he disappeared for a month to another country to finish writing his book. Listening (I did listen to this book and I recommend it) to her talk about the quirks that bothered her really made their relationship real. It also was inspiring. They overcame much together, and worked hard to stay together, and do the right thing.

I mentioned already that this book is inspiring and empowering. Michelle makes no bones about where she came from, and how sometimes she did not realize the cost in what she had achieved. From her parents sacrificing to do everything for their children, to the extra work she had to put in as a mother and trying to keep a full-time job. She talks about what it took to become who she is, and how she still hopes to become more. At the end, she discussed about where we are today in terms of the country and how she hopes for more and better – and I hope right beside her.

– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, academic advising and retention, Western Kentucky University.

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