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

WWW Wednesday!

A little more than a week into the New Year, and I am already behind on my reading goal! Is anyone else having this problem?

I suppose that’s what happens when you make several ambitious goals at once. This month, I’m also doing a Whole30, trying to get to yoga 4 times a week, and journal every day. It’s been a lot of running around, and I haven’t spent nearly as much time reading as I would usually like.

So I may not meet my goal of five books this month, but here’s what has been going on in my reading life lately…

WWW Wednesday is hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words.It’s a simple and fun way to see what everyone is reading. After looking at some others this morning, I’ve already added a couple books to my list! Here’s how it works…

The Three W’s are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

I’m going to include both the actual books I’m reading, which count toward my goal, and audiobooks, which are rereads, and don’t count, but bring me lots of joy!

Currently Reading: Becoming by Michelle Obama

This is something of a peer-pressure read. In other words, I’m reading it because everyone else is reading it, and I feel like I should. I’ve always liked Michelle Obama without knowing much about her. (I’m shamefully uninformed and apathetic about politics, particularly given that I live in DC). However, she always comes across intelligent and poised so I was interested to learn more about her life. I’m a little more than halfway through at this point. It’s very well written: the sentences are beautifully composed and I think the book is organized effectively. It’s one of those not-slow-but-not-fast reads. I’m glad I’m reading it, but I don’t think this is one I’ll reread or feel the need to own. See above apathy about politics.

Current Reading (Audiobook): The Secret Place by Tana French

In December, my book club read In the Woods, French’s first novel. I lent my copy to a friend, and so I decided to listen to it on Audible. I’ve basically been binge-listening to all of her books ever since. Let me say, they are all outstanding.The narrators are stunning. If you’re a Tana French fan, or a mystery fan needing a new book, please. Go listen to them. Anyway, I’m a few chapters into The Secret Place, which wasn’t my favorite of hers the first time through. I’m interested to see how the dual-POV feels in an audiobook. I only have one more audiobook for Tana French, so I don’t know what I’m going to listen to when I’m done!

Recently Finished: One Day in December by Josie Silver

This is technically not my most recently finished book, but it’s the most recently finished book that I really enjoyed. I got it for my Book of the Month pick, feeling like I needed something light and fluffy to get me out of the holiday grump. This book delivered! I loved the characters, and the way the novel followed a core group as their lives shifted and changed. It had a great balance of levity, romance, and depth. It was one of those books that gave me more than I was expecting from it. And the romance was so sweet! All I wanted to do when I finished was kiss my husband. Totally got me out of the grump.

Recently Finished (Audiobook): Better Than Beforeby Gretchen Rubin

I’m totally a Gretchen Rubin fangirl, and I don’t care how dorky that sounds. I’ve read The Happiness Project, the book she’s most known for, at least twice. I listen to her podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin,regularly, and I even got to meet her once at a book signing in DC. Better than Before is my favorite of her bestsellers, because advice and strategies in there are just so good. Gretchen does such a fantastic job of taking the abstract and making it concrete. I can’t say I’m nearly as good at keeping my good habits as she is, but she makes me feel so hopeful that I can do better and build a happier life.

Me with Gretchen during her Four Tendencies Tour

Up Next: The Hating Game by Sally Thorne

I’m so excited to sink my teeth into this one! My good friend Betsy, who has impeccable taste in books, recommended The Hating Game to me. She’s also great at picking out top-notch chic lit, which I’ve been promised that this is. It also seems to be a sort of modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, and I’m always intrigued by modernizations of Jane Austen. Still a 100-odd pages left of Becoming left, and then I will be jumping right in!

Thoughts on these choices? Which ones have you read? Have you done the WWW meme? I would love to know what you’re reading!

Happy Reading,
Angela