- What: Becoming
- Who: Michelle Obama
- Pages: 421, hard cover
- Genre: Memoir
- Published: 2018
- The lit: of 5 flames
My family weighs heavily the ability to tell a story. If you lack it, there will be judgment. Just ask my sister, who unfortunately has been made fun of countless times over the years for her infamous stories of “Remember that one time with that one person?” Sorry, sis, but I had to. Thankfully, she’s improved, which confirms there’s hope for even the worst storytellers.
This high standard my family shares stays intact when I read and review books. I can sniff out a poor storyteller within a few pages, and a great one introduces him or herself right away.
It was pretty obvious after reading the prologue of Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 10 out of 10 weeks (sittin’ pretty at the top too I might add), that Obama was no phony. She’s not a famous person who found pages with her name on them simply because of that name. No, Michelle Obama was born to write and to tell stories. The Steffens clan would hold these abilities in high regard. I know I do.
It’s only fitting that I start this post with a small snapshot of my family because family defines Michelle Obama in her memoir. First lady, inspiration to the world (especially to women and the black community), South Side queen, and kick-ass career woman also characterize her. However, nothing defines her path and her happiness quite like family, which is illustrated in every chapter.
“I’ve learned that it’s harder to hate up close.” — Becoming
Obama’s book is divided into three parts: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. (You can guess where her hubby comes into play.) In the first section, we learn about the upbringing of Michelle LaVaughn Robinson, a girl of Chicago’s South Side. Born to working-class parents, she had musical, practical, loving, and hard-working influences all around her that would shape the woman she is today. She was smart and succeeded in everything she did from piano lessons and reading to the fire drills her brother required they perform at home.
However, a theme is clearly present in all of these stories from her first two decades. She struggled to feel good enough, and this would stay with her well into adulthood. She always found a way around this doubt though, and never did she let it — or her skeptics — paralyze her. Obama studied hard and got into Princeton for undergrad and then Harvard to study the law. It was around this time when she really started believing in her own potential, which would become a gift to the world.
“Hearing [men in class], I realized that they weren’t at all smarter than the rest of us. They were simply emboldened, floating on an ancient tide of superiority, buoyed by the fact that history had never told them anything different.” — Becoming
After law school, Obama returned to Chicago, where she started working as an attorney in marketing and intellectual property law. Through her job, she met the future Mr. Michelle Obama, and their love story — from his being late the first day of work, to their first kiss while eating ice cream, and to their engagement when Barack argued for not getting married only to surprise her with a ring — is warming, gushing, and envy-inducing.
From there, Obama is candid about their struggles as a couple and in trying to conceive. She’s honest about their infertility and the IVF that eventually gave them Sasha and Malia, and she doesn’t hold back the heartbreak and love that accompanied these moments. She gives us all of the emotions here.
“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.” — Becoming
The book wraps up with insight into her husband’s presidential run and their eight years in the White House, which cause many laughs and even some WTFs.
You’d think a former first lady’s memoir would focus on just that: being first lady. That’s not quite true though. Becoming takes a much deeper dive into Obama’s life before inaugurations and global initiatives, and for that, I am happy.
It’s not that the White House years she portrays are boring; of course we learn fun and interesting tidbits about this presidential couple that weren’t on media highlight reels. But we’ve really only known them as the 44th POTUS and FLOTUS. We know way less about their lives before and outside of politics. In Becoming, we can see them as regular people just like us. People who have goals, dreams, doubts, love, mistakes, and joy and people who need an escape just like we do.
“At the end of a busy day, I will tell you, there is nothing better than watching a young couple find their dream home in Nashville or some young bride-to-be saying yes to the dress.” — Becoming
We get a sense of who Michelle LaVaughn Robinson is, removed from the title of first lady, in her memoir. Learning about her outside of the spotlight brings such joy to her pages and illuminates her as a real person. All of this insight into who she really is plays a big role in this book receiving top marks.
None of this would be possible if Obama weren’t so great at storytelling. When you read her words, you feel like you’re sitting across from her, sharing stories and a bottle of wine. She’s wicked good at making a big point from such a small, minute memory. And she’s witty, sarcastic, and open, all without an ounce of pretension, reminding us why she was so beloved as a first lady.
In his farewell speech as president, Barack remarked that his wife “made the White House a place that belongs to everyone” and that “a new generation sets its sights higher” because she is now their role model. Her memoir displays her big heart and brilliant mind. We were lucky to have this inspiring woman as a first lady and just as fortunate to witness her character as a human being and her skills as a writer.