Many months ago, before the book was even published, I put a hold on Michelle Obama’s autobiography, Becoming, at my public library. This week, it was finally my turn be immersed in one of the best autobiographies I have ever read. I finished this 421 page triumph in less than three days. I usually recommend books on the home page of my blog, but this one is worthy of the attention of all my readers, no matter what their political persuasion might be.
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Why do we read autobiographies? Because we are interested in the way other people create and live out their lives? Because we want to observe other people’s families and say either “At least mine wasn’t that bad!” or “I wish I had that kind of family” or “Wasn’t I lucky to have a family just like that? Because we are interested in reading about other places and other times? All of these reasons are usually fulfilled in good autobiographies, but the best autobiographies also help us see and understand ourselves and our worlds better. Michelle Obama’s autobiography is one of those.
The book is divided into three sections: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. Each section is funny, warm, engaging – and brutally honest, just like Michelle. It is also full of fascinating details of her life before Barrack, with Barrack, and as First Lady and beyond. Her determination to be true to herself and her upbringing through all the changes and challenges in her life are inspiring. Her commitment to Barack and her children and their life as a family is often challenged by her own career, his long-distance career, his entry into politics. Her responsibilities as a wife, mother, executive,campaigner, and finally First Lady battle with each other and cause internal conflict. Her willingness to grapple with all this and change as needed is an example for all women. Her honesty about being a woman in public life, especially a black woman, challenges us all.
Michelle Obama lived her early if an upstairs apartment above her aunt’s home and piano studio. She says, “My family was my world. . . . Everything that mattered was in a five block radius.” Her “stay at home” mother taught her the value of self-sacrifice as well as the need to be direct and speak up for yourself. Her father, disabled by MS, taught her the meaning of hard work, doing your best, and loving your family. Her brother older brother Craig modeled studying hard, seeing the optimistic side of everything, and also treated her as his best friend. Michelle was a planner, thrived when her life was organized and everything was in its place. In spite of her warm family life, Michelle describes battling a sense that even though she was smart and popular, maybe she wasn’t good enough. May- be she had to work harder than everyone else to get where she wanted to go.
When Michelle and Barack Obama meet, she is already a successful lawyer. He has lived a totally different life, but seems to have found himself in the process. He is brilliant, constantly in his head, spontaneous, loving – and ambitious. They are as different as they could be – and adapting to these differences result in much of her personal growth. This section of the book is my favorite. Michelle’s internal battles to be a good mother, to have a warm and close marriage like that of her parents, and her desire to succeed at her ever-escalating career – all at the same time – are honest as well as fascinating. Her insights into Barack’s character and intelligence and growing desire to make a difference in the world (a desire she had been nurturing in herself since childhood) are just as fascinating.
This section is about a woman coming into her own. Anxious about being a black woman in the most public job of the nation, she became a role model for us all. Determined to speak to issues that were important to her, she created initiatives that advanced the health and nutrition of children, the needs of military families, and the education of girls around the world in creative and enduring ways. Determined not to let President Trump’s hateful and bullying language go unchecked, she popularized the phrase “When they go low, we go high.” Leaving the White House determined to continue to make a difference, , she writes:
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. I became a mother, but I still have a lot to learn from and give to my children. I became a wife, but I continue to adapt to and be humbled by what it means to truly love and make a life with another person. I have become by certain measures a person of power, and yet there are moments still when I feel insecure or unheard. It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.
So, this is why I read autobiographies: to be enlightened, challenged and inspired. If that’s your goal, I encourage you to make time to read this book.