Becoming by Michelle Obama

A few months ago, I listened to President Barack Obama’s book A Promised Land (see my review here) and he related many personal incidents, including the fact that his wife, Michelle, was very angry when he decided to run for president. I wanted to hear her side of the story and already had the audiobook of Becoming (Amazon) in my library, so I decided to compare her story with his story.

“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.”

Michelle Obama has a unique place in the history of the United States as the first African-American First Lady. Of course, as I found out while listening to the audiobook, that’s not at all what Obama wanted. Growing up in the south side of Chicago to a close-knit family, her upbringing is the exact opposite of what her husband experienced. Until she was in college, she didn’t realize she was in the minority because she was raised in a predominantly black area.

Her deep ties to the black community seem to be much stronger than President Obama’s. In his memoir, he mentioned race a couple of times and the difficulties that presented, but Michelle’s experience was much different. She was in the minority most of the time being black and a woman and she mentions the historical or social context, representing systematic problems in our society when it comes to race. She doesn’t sound bitter about it, but matter-of-fact. As an African-American woman who grew up during the 1970’s and 80’s, her experiences speak to the problems our society had and how that has slowly changed over time, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

I did not know her dad had MS (Multiple Sclerosis) that eventually led to his early death at age 55. Michelle got along with her older brother and he was smart, an excellent athlete, and protective of her. Her mom is the rock that held them all together. It’s no wonder she asked her mom to move to Washington with the family when they went to the White House.

I found Michelle’s commitment to her children instead of her career refreshing. That’s not to say Obama didn’t work hard, she did, but she always put her children front and center, and was actually happy with how being in the White House meant that the family was able to have dinner together almost every night, as opposed to when Barack was a Senator and often out-of-town. There was a time when women had to choose either a career or their children, and Michelle showed how she was able to pull off both, although she admitted that she rarely found her pre-White House work fulfilling. Her work to bring healthy food into schools and increase children’s physical activity came from first-hand experience: Sasha’s health was not the greatest, and the doctor and she realized it was because of poor choices made on her part, relying on fast food for meals all too often and not encouraging the kids to engage in physical activity.

I have to say, though, that she paints her husband in the most positive light possible, maybe in an attempt to help write the legacy of the Obama White House. The worst she seemed to say is that he was a bit messy, and she is a self-described control freak who needs order. I also enjoyed the closer look at their relationship, and how President Obama supported Michelle with whatever decisions she made about her jobs or the children. He comes across the same as he always has: a bit laid-back, careful with words, well-read, super smart, a good basketball player, and down-to-earth.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I’ll admit that I may or may not have voted for her husband, but that their eight years in the White House were an important part of our American history. The Obamas conducted themselves as one would hope most Presidents and First Ladies would, with respect and reverence of the positions they held. I think it’s too soon to discuss the lasting legacy of Obamas work, but I think history will prove it to be a positive one.

This is the 16th audiobook I listened to as part of my 2021 Audiobook Challenge.

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7 comments

  1. I loved Becoming. Read it in book form, and then listened to it on audible (my first audible book – I typically prefer actual books, leafing through pages and the feel of a good book in my hand!) Becoming changed that.

    I laughed, cried and chuckled through her telling of her life thus far.

    I agree that she was far too generous to her husband – I thought he was often a tad too selfish/self-absorbed. But throughout the book she keeps absolving him, graciously taking the fall for what was her husband’s glaring shortcomings.

    I found her to be unpretentious, sincere, genuine, and her book and life story honest and compelling. And very importantly, she tells her story/writes in a way that it is accessible and relatable – in a way that transcends and cuts through cultures, educational backgrounds etc. I think that’s why so many people from different parts of the world could get into it and enjoy her memoir.

    I found her husband’s book to be tedious and often calculating. The stabs at self-deprecation, entirely designed to buffer him from criticism. And where others concluded “humility”, I came away thinking, false modesty.

    Like

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