Book Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama
“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’ve been waiting and wanting to read Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming since it was first announced. I was something like 127th in line at my library, so I decided to wait for the audiobook as well from the library to see which one would be faster. So about two weeks ago, the audiobook finally came through my Libby app. I’ve said before I’m not terribly fond of audiobooks unless they’re non-fiction, and even then, it takes me a while to get through them. My brain is much more geared towards podcasts and shorter audio files. But I am so glad I read this on audio. Listening to Michelle Obama read her own life story was an amazing experience. I listened to this in the car, doing laundry, putting away new baby stuff, and generally nesting. I laughed, I cried; I cannot say enough fantastic things about my reading experience. While I generally enjoy memoirs, I always appreciate food memoirs more for some reason; however, I absolutely loved Becoming. Definitely one of my favorites!
Before reading Becoming, I knew Michelle Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago and then went on to Princeton for undergrad, then Harvard for law school. But other than that, I really didn’t know too much about her life before meeting Barack. I really enjoyed learning about her family life. Her immediate family seemed so wonderful; I loved how close she and her brother were, and still are. I also appreciated the brief looks into her school life. She was able to go to a magnet school for high school, and while it seemed difficult at first to adjust, she quickly became an A-student and an extremely hard-worker. I also really enjoyed her talk about the differences between groups at school. Middle and high school experiences generally are hard on all teenagers, but it’s always refreshing to hear someone who has accomplished so much in life talk about the difficulties in navigating high school cliques or figuring out who you are.
I really enjoyed the early days of her and Barack’s relationship. It’s always fascinating to me how two powerful and famous people fell in love before they become famous. When I read Laura Bush’s memoir Spoken from the Heart years ago, I remembered thinking the same thing, even though one could argue George W. Bush was already semi-famous then. Anywho, Michelle and Barack’s relationship was fun, and it was interesting to see how they coped with everything from long-distance while Barack finished up law school to her dad’s death. What really struck me about their relationship (which I kind of knew, but did not know to what extent) was how much Michelle did not want Barack to be in politics and how much she shied away from campaigning, especially early on in his political career. She said many times that she never liked politics and didn’t want to be involved. She also thought that Barack decided to run for the Presidency too early and thought her friends and family would agree with her, yet Barack laid out his case and convinced their friends, and thus he ran. I enjoyed those little tidbits of behind the scenes of the campaign. It made her seem relatable and honest, because deciding to run for President is not just a one-person job; it takes a whole family and many, many staffers and volunteers.
One thing I found fascinating that I did not know about beforehand was the Obamas’ struggles to conceive. I’ve known several women and families who have struggled, but I feel like only in the past few years have people become more vocal about it. Elizabeth Holmes (of So Many Thoughts fame) has particularly opened up my eyes to those who struggle with infertility. I appreciated Michelle’s candor and her willingness to acknowledge how sad and lonely the IVF process can be. When they were going though all of this, Barack was in the early stages of his political career and was often times in Springfield for session, so Michelle was forced to give herself the shots and injections of hormones. This was one of the parts that really struck me. How incredibly brave of her to not only address their struggles with infertility, but also to admit how sometimes she would resent Barack’s career for keeping him away from her during those times. She never shied away from her feelings and always was honest about how difficult life was with Barack in the public eye.
As a mom-to-be myself (only 5 more weeks until Baby McWhorter’s due date!), I found myself crying while listening to Michelle describe her pregnancies and Malia and Sasha’s younger years. Working mothers always have a difficult time, but when your husband runs for the US Senate and then a few years later, the Presidency of the United States of America, how do you work to keep your family life private and safe, while also supporting your husband’s dreams and career? First of all, I was stunned by how much Michelle tried to keep her job at the University of Chicago going even after Barack announced he was running. I love that she wrestled with her dreams versus his dreams. In the end, it obviously all worked out, but that had to have been such a tough choice, especially because it seemed like Michelle had finally found a job that she loved. On top of her job that she loved, she also was a working mom whose husband split his time between Chicago and Washington, DC. I can only imagine how difficult that must have been. Luckily she had a support system of family and friends, plus a great nanny, but still she must have been exhausted all the time. She loves her daughters so much and that’s what I found myself resonating with. I’m sure a lot of my tears were hormonal, but gosh, there were so many times throughout Becoming where I had to actively fight back tears. And her chapters on motherhood really did me in!
I won’t go into too much detail about their time in the White House because while I enjoyed the behind the scenes of that, I enjoyed the glimpses of her life before and after the Presidency much more. Though I did enjoy hearing about all the amazing women she had on her staff. As someone who worked in politics right after college, I still feel a kinship to that life, though I am so incredibly thankful I don’t do that anymore. That was not a sustainable, long-term career path for me, and I’m so glad I figured that out early on.
As you can tell, I absolutely adored this book and am so glad I listened it to on audio. I cannot recommend this book enough. I already plan to go out and buy a copy of the book, just to have and reference in the future. Michelle Obama is not only a powerful woman, but she is an incredibly talented writer, and I look forward to seeing what else she and Barack will do. Becoming is definitely one of my favorites for the year; I give it 5 stars!
What other memoirs have made an impact on you lately? Bonus points if it’s read by the author!