Review: Becoming by Michelle Obama

New for 2019, along with flash fiction, poetry and crazy musings, I plan to also post book reviews!  I’ve been having fun posting reviews on Goodreads, and I decided it was time to share the wealth over here too.  Looking forward to hearing whether you agree with my picks, and what books you’d recommend as well.  What better way to start this new venture than with a fantastic memoir by our former first lady.  Enjoy!

 

Early on in her wonderful memoir, Michelle Obama tells the story of learning to play piano from her Great Aunt Robbie in the apartment downstairs on an old upright with chipped and cracked keys.  She described how she motivated she was, how hard she worked, how she argued learning strategy with her aunt, and finally how proud she was as the day of her first recital approached.  But when she mounted the stage at the recital hall that her aunt had rented for the occasion, and sat down for the first time at a pristine baby grand, young Michelle Robinson had a moment of quiet panic because without the cracked keys to prompt her, she could not find middle C.  Her teacher sensed the reason for her hesitation, moved silently to her side, and touched the central key.  Michelle could then move on, and thus the anecdote had a happy conclusion.

It’s an endearing story, but perhaps could serve an allegorical purpose as well.  Despite the fact that Michelle Robinson was raised by loving, hard-working parents who sacrificed for the benefit of Michelle and her brother, despite their encouragement and optimism, it’s unavoidable when a young person leaves the shelter of her own neighborhood that she will encounter a few things for which she is unprepared.  Thus one of the threads that runs through the book is the importance of mentorship.  Michelle Robinson was blessed to have many, in high school, college and in her budding career as a lawyer.  Later when she began to realize that maybe lawyering wasn’t how she wanted to spend her life, she was savvy enough to go seeking out mentors to help her discover a new path.  And so her life has been spent paying forward the favors bestowed on her.  Everywhere she’s gone, she’s sought out young people—in particular young women from poor and working class backgrounds—to give them a hand up.  To help them realize that despite whatever obstacles they may face, they’re worth it.  It’s an inspiring message.

So even if Michelle Obama hadn’t been The First African American FLOTUS, this would still be a read-worthy memoir for this message alone—the importance of mentoring our children.  In fact there is nothing more important really. But she was and will always be The First, and so this book interests and delights us with its stories of White House life, secret service protocol, political tales, and a few romantic scenes.  One of my favorites comes from early on in her relationship with the future president, spending the night at the apartment he had sublet for his summer internship in Chicago.  She awoke in the middle of the night to find her boyfriend lying awake beside her, looking pensive, staring at the ceiling.  She wondered what could be bothering him—something about their relationship or perhaps the recent death of his father?  “What are you thinking about?” she whispered, and he looked sheepish. “Oh,” he responded.  “I was just thinking about income inequality.”

Okay, I just loved that. And now (tangent alert!) I have to admit that I want a president who’s lying awake at night worrying about income inequality, all right?  As Mrs. Obama says next, “This, I was learning, was how Barack’s mind worked. He got himself fixated on big and abstract issues, fueled by some crazy sense that he might be able to do something about them. . . I’d hung around with good people who cared about important enough things but who were focused primarily on building their careers and providing for their families. Barack was just different.”

As I’m writing this, two days ago, Elizabeth Warren announced the formation of an exploratory committee for a presidential run.  And I say, you go girl!  However for the past two days, I’ve also been participating in a FB discussion on whether we think she’d be a good president, and most of my friends think Yes!  But can she be elected in this political climate, and most of us think No!  So sad. Nonetheless, I want to say, I’ll bet Elizabeth Warren lies awake at night thinking about income inequality. Do any of the other potential candidates?  I don’t know.

Anyway, tangent done. I recommend this book to everybody, whether you’re Obama supporters or no.  It’s a great read by a modern woman who had to struggle, as most of us have and do, to find and maintain her own identity through the demands of work, marriage, and a whole lot more.  And she’s done it with intelligence and grace.  Can’t ask for much more than that.

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