Book Review: Becoming

I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience in the last ten years has done nothing to change that. I continue to be put off my it’s nastiness—the tribal segregation between red and blue, this idea that we’re supposed to choose one side and stick to it, unable to listen and compromise, or sometimes even to be civil.

Becoming, page 419

In my city, I am an anomaly. I live in Washington, D.C., a place where politics and politicians take center stage, where national issues and—far too often lately, the president—take the place of small talk. In DC, you ask or get asked four questions when you first meet someone: Where are you from? Where do you live? What do you do? and finally, if they can’t figure this out based on your answers to the previous questions, What are your politics? I say I am an anomaly because I am politically apathetic in a city that literally runs on political agendas. I did not come here because I wanted to be in the center of that madness. I came here because the man that I love, who eventually became my husband, was here.

And it is in this small way that I have something in common with Michelle Obama.

Occasionally, I succumb to reading peer pressure. I want to read something because it’s gotten tons of hype, is all over social media, or all my friends are reading it. I’d like to think it’s not because I want to be like everybody else (although that’s probably part of it), but more so that I can intelligently contribute to the conversation when people inevitably bring it up. My desire to read Becoming started this way. I’ve always liked Michelle Obama, and I was mildly interested in learning about her life. But mostly, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.

So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal. We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only way to be American—that if our skin is too dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong. That is, until someone dares to tell the story differently

Becoming, page 415

First let me say that the writing itself is beautiful. It doesn’t surprise me in any way that someone as intelligent and poised as Michelle can craft eloquent sentences. But it was more than just the sentences that made this book flow, almost effortlessly. This is not a book where someone is just laying out her memories because hey, they happened to her. Every story she shares was clearly chosen for a specific reason, and she weaves it throughout the entire narrative, able to connect something that happened in her childhood to something she experienced in the White House. I don’t read a lot of memoirs, admittedly, but this seems to be a shining example of what the genre can be when done well.

One word I’ve seen many people use to describe this book is intimate, and I definitely agree. Much of the charm of this book is how honest it feels, how candidly Michelle expresses her thoughts and emotions. “Did I think it was a good idea for him to run for Congress? No I did not.” I feel you, girl. If my husband wanted to run for office, I would have the same reaction. And this is the kind of thought that I had while reading, over and over. I hear you. I feel you. That totally would be me. Her writing makes you feel like she’s telling you her life story over a cup of coffee. And what impresses me most is that her tone manages to be conversational when writing about such important things. It was this, more than the sheer beauty of the writing itself, that won me over in the end. I might not care about politics, but I care about Michele’s story. I liked her before I read the book, but I like her better now because I feel like I actually know about her life. She lets herself be open and vulnerable on the page, the refrain of Am I good enough? weaving through pivotal moments of her life. We’ve all been there, and it matters that she shares these moments of insecurity.

It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your own unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others.

So, ultimately, I do understand what all the fuss is about. It’s over 400 pages, and you need to invest some reading time into it. I usually finish books, even big ones, in a week or less. This one took me a full ten days. Like I said, the writing flows effortlessly, but it is a lot to digest and reflect on. It’s a serious book, and she wants to make you think, so don’t pick it up for a bit of light reading. But, if you want to know more about Michelle’s life, this is worth the read. I feel relieved that she gets a little more normalcy now, and I hope she’s enjoying her new house, and the ability to open the windows whenever she wants to.

Have you read Becoming? What did you think? What other memoirs would you recommend?

Happy Reading!
Angela