Becoming, Michelle Obama

I’m just an oik from Essex, England, UK, and this admission may expose me as a complete oiky idiot, but here’s what I knew about Michelle Obama before reading Becoming:

  1. She was the first black First Lady. (…no prizes here, bozo…)
  2. She is very intelligent and a great feminist (I was sketchy on the actual details…).
  3. She likes clothes from a quite expensive shop called J Crew….and once wore a really nice black cardigan (from another shop) to meet the Queen.  
  4. She has great arms and once did some press ups on the Ellen show.
  5. She is admired by lots of people and many wanted her to run for president herself at the end of her husband’s time in office.  

That was it. A pitiful, rather embarrassing list. I should be ashamed, really. Thoroughly ashamed. But now I have rectified it. Now I have read Becoming, I know a lot more about Michelle Obama…

I know about her childhood growing up on the Southside of Chicago with two calm and stoic loving parents, who sacrificed much of their own lives to make sure Michelle and her older brother, Craig, would have great futures. I know about the wider and sometimes eccentric cast of characters in her family she spoke about with such respect and wit and love. I know about her education, how when she was struggling in an unruly second-grade class her mother had words and got her switched to a ‘bright an orderly’ third-grade class – ‘a small but life-changing move’. How she studied like crazy – but with an endearing neatness and methodical colour-coding – to get to Princeton. How she ended up working in a prestigious law firm but swerved to take roles in some amazing community-minded jobs, really making a difference. How she fell in love with ambling, slightly messy Barack Hussein Obama, setting her off on a wild ride that would lead her all the way to the door of the White House, and inside, where she would spend eight years also making a difference.

I was worried this book might be a ‘heavy’ read, that I would get bored by the politics, that – but for my attempting to read 50 women’s autobiographies in one year and giving myself a window of no more than 1.04 weeks to read it – I might pick it up and put it down a lot, dreaming of Bridget Jones or some other familiar rom com I’d rather be reading…

Not so! I was immediately engrossed in this book. I raced through it like a cat across a windy garden. I savoured every word and turn of events. I feel this is a book it would be easy to absolutely gush over, in fact, but that’s not my style. It’s not Michelle Obama’s either. Her writing is plain-speaking, honest and to the point. She is not over-inflated, grandiose or over-circumspect. She is not flowery or sentimental.

She is wonderful!!!!!!!

These are the things I took away from this book and will stay with me forever:

  • The vegetable garden in the White House Michelle planted with the help of local children.
  • Michelle’s love for Barack, her children and her parents. Her pride in all of them. Yes, I cried a couple of times.
  • Her extremely articulate examination of the age-old conflict of mother/working mother. How she wanted to do both effectively and with conviction.

 “I wanted to live with the hat-tossing, independent-career-woman zest of Mary Tyler Moore, and at the same time I gravitated toward the stabilizing, self-sacrificing, seemingly bland normalcy of being a wife and mother. I wanted to have a work life and a home life, but with some promise that one would never fully squelch the other. I hoped to be exactly like my own mother and at the same time nothing like her at all. It was an odd and confounding thing to ponder. Could I have everything? Would I have everything? I had no idea.”

  • Her soul-searching when Obama told her he wanted to run for president. What it would mean for her. Her own life. Her daughters.

“My job would be not just to give tacit support to the campaign but to participate in it. I’d be expected to make myself and our children available for viewing, to smile approvingly and shake a lot of hands. Everything would be about him now, I realized, in support of this larger cause.”

  • The day-to-do challenge of trying to instill a degree of normalcy into living in the White House:

How to navigate play dates when one of the participant’s dads is president of the United States and has about five secret service agents following her everywhere.

The respect and camaraderie with which the Obamas treated the staff.

How Michelle’s lovely mum didn’t change one bit after living in an upstairs suite in the White House for eight years (I love Michelle’s mum!)

I have taken a lot away from this book. I will carry the things I have read and the things I have learnt in a little pocket within myself to bring out now and again and consider. I will always be glad I read this book. ‘Inspirational’ is a term that is bandied around like watermelon-flavoured steam from a vape these days but yes, Michelle is hugely inspirational, but also very human and likeable and she has a great way with words in telling her exceptional story. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled to know she has a new fan joining the millions of people who already knew all the good and really important stuff about her. 😉

*Next memoir: Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton.*