Becoming by Michelle Obama has gotten so much buzz in the past few months that I knew I had to put it on my summer TBR. I also can’t resist a good memoir, especially one written by such a talented, strong, high-profile professional woman. I’ve got a soft spot for presidential biographies, but it occurred to me recently that there aren’t nearly enough books written about First Ladies. And here was a memoir written by a former First Lady, a firsthand account of life before, during, and a bit after her time in the White House. I’m not someone who enjoys being steeped in politics, but this was a bookish opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.
Michelle walks the reader through her entire life up until the end of her husband’s presidency. From her childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago to her time and her time at Princeton and Harvard to working as a lawyer, meeting Barack, switching careers, and starting a family, it seems as though she covers nearly every stage of her life in some regard. She talks about the hardships she endured, the challenges she overcame, what it was like growing up with father who suffered from a chronic illness. But she’s also open and up front about the many privileges she was lucky enough to experience: attending not one but two Ivy League institutions, being financially stable enough to hire a cook to make meals for her family during busy campaigning seasons, and ultimately living in the White House for eight years. This balance adds credibility and a sense of genuineness to her account, making her easy to relate to as a reader.
However, I must say that I enjoyed the first part of the book far better than the rest. As soon as Barack entered the picture it seemed as though the book became much more about them than about her. Perhaps this shift is inevitable when writing about a married life; even so, I would have liked a little bit more about how she felt about things rather than what Barack was up to. I got the sense that there is a lot left unsaid, and maybe that’s also inevitable. I respect the desire and need to keep certain aspects of one’s life away from the public eye, and I would never fault anyone for doing so. Even though I enjoyed learning about Michelle’s childhood the most, it was nevertheless fascinating to get the inside scoop about what it’s like to live in the White House. Michelle struck the balance between personal and private that was right for her, and I admire and respect that compromise wholeheartedly.
I really love how this book sticks to its title, narrating a process of becoming. She talks not only about how she becomes herself, but how she becomes an attorney, a wife, a mother, and eventually a First Lady. In the epilogue she really drives her message home, emphasizing that she is still in a process of becoming and that this process never really ends. As someone who just graduated undergrad and is in that strange limbo time before law school begins, hearing that even Michelle Obama feels as though she is still in a process of becoming was incredibly encouraging and reassuring. No one has all the answers to what their life will hold or where they will end up. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that in the hustle and bustle of everyday life when we feel stressed out and frazzled. It may seem as though everyone has their lives together so much more than we do, but in this book Michelle reminds us that this illusion is not grounded in reality.
Perhaps above all, Becoming is incredibly empowering, moving, and inspiring. I listened to Michelle Obama narrate this 20-hour audiobook while commuting to work, and there were countless times when I actually teared up because I was so moved by her story or the stories she told of others. I read this book at a time when I very much needed to be cheered up and empowered, and I can’t imagine a better book to have leaned on for guidance.
Overall, Becoming by Michelle Obama is brilliant. Amazing. Powerful. Beautiful. I would recommend it to anyone and everyone, no matter your political views or thoughts on the Obama administration. Although Barack Obama’s presidency obviously plays a major role in this memoir, the story Michelle tells reaches far beyond the bounds of politics. Hers is a story about life, love, family, happiness, resilience, grief, hope, education, strength, and community. What more could you ask for?
Have you ever read Becoming? What are your thoughts on it? Have any other empowering memoirs you would recommend? Let me know in the comments section below!