‘Becoming’ sold more than 1.4 million copies in its first week and quickly became the best-selling book of 2018. It is indeed remarkable that this book topped the selling charts of 2018 as it was released towards the end of the year on November 13 and had only a month and a half in sales to reach this coveted status . The book ranked number one on the New York Times bestseller list for eight consecutive weeks. According to Amazon, it was No. 1 "most sold on Amazon across all formats for 47 consecutive days," which is the longest streak since "Fifty Shades of Grey." It is featured as Oprah’s latest book club selection and Michelle Obama has had successful book tours and talks in sold out arenas and stadiums.
In a reading guide to her memoir, Michelle writes, “My main hope was to create something that could be useful to other people, to give them something they could use in their own lives. So I focused on telling my story as honestly as I could. I’m not settling scores or giving a political play-by-play.” According to Kirkus reviews, Becoming is “An engrossing memoir as well as a lively treatise on what extraordinary grace under extraordinary pressure looks like." David Canfield writes in Entertainment weekly, “Becoming arrives like a glass bottle of decency, preserved from a nationwide garbage fire. This is a straightforward, at times rather dry autobiography from a major public figure that stands in remarkably sharp contrast to the state of our discourse…”
In the first part of the Book titled, ‘Becoming Me’ Michelle talks about how she grew up in south side Chicago in an apartment which was small but with parents whose hearts were big. Her dad Fraser Robinson was a city water plant employee who donned a uniform and went to work every day, her mother Marian Robinson was a homemaker devoted to her kids. Her parents did the best for her and I teared up when they somehow made ends meet to make sure she goes on a trip to Paris which she thought they could not afford. The implicit bias towards Black people is evident when a policeman questions her brother about his new bike, making sure it’s his and not stolen.
She goes on to graduate from Princeton and Harvard and gets a job at a prestigious law firm where she takes on the task of mentoring a summer associate named Barack Obama. ‘Becoming Me’ ends when she leans in for a kiss with Barack and knows in her heart that he is the one for her. The second part of the book ‘Becoming Us’ starts with how her feelings for Barack came rushing like “a toppling blast of lust, gratitude, fulfillment, wonder.” Her adulation and love for Barack is evident and for a little while the book becomes more about him and his charisma and charm. She says that, “even White people were recognizing him now” and the statement points to her belief that as a Black person in America you have to be really good at what you do to be noticed by Caucasians.The marriage proposal scene is very sweet, Barack gets Michelle all riled up, enjoys teasing her and then discloses there was nothing to get so wound up about!
Michelle’s grit, discipline, hard work, time management skills, the fact that she worked for a nonprofit like Power Allies, did outreach for the hospital, her desire to do something meaningful for the community, to demand the salary she deserved; are all worthy of admiration. She is an embodiment of a modern, strong, dynamic woman who in her own words strives to find that balance between Mary Tyler Moore and her mom Marian Robinson. The image of her balancing a baby Sasha on her knee while interviewing for her job at the Chicago hospital is empowering.
The scene in the book which left a lasting impression on me was the night “when the networks began to flash pictures” of a smiling Barack Obama, declaring that “he would become the forty-fourth president of the United States.” Michelle felt like her “family got launched out of a cannon into some strange underwater universe” They have to drive down in the night to the gathering of supporters at the park where Obama will give his first victory speech. Michelle writes, “We were gliding now in a police-escorted motorcade along Lake Shore Drive, speeding towards Grant Park. I’d traveled this same road hundreds of times in my life, from my bus rides home from Whitney Young to the predawn drives to the gym” Reading these lines gave me goosebumps, it’s overwhelming, I had to take a minute to let it sink in and exhale. How extraordinary and surreal is it that she is going down the same road as first lady, the familiar road she traveled as a young Black school girl on her long bus rides home! This moment is absolutely the pinnacle of the American Dream.
It also made me emotional when she talks about how Obama “was this man who no longer had a father or a mother” and he was about to be elected “the leader of the free world” It is indeed a warm, loving moment when he hears the good news of his presidential win on TV sitting on the couch with his mother-in-law Marian Robinson who holds his hand.
The last part of the book “Becoming More” starts when she steps foot in the white house and the pressure of being the first Black first lady makes her wonder if she is good enough. She is reminded of what she has always heard, that Black people have to work twice as hard to get to the same distance. She has always come across as someone very confident so I felt empathetic to read that she is vulnerable and has had her moments of self-doubt just like all of us.
The memoir details a lot of back stories of what was going on in her head during moments we watched on TV; the inauguration ball, the famous speeches she gave, where she was when Bin Laden was killed, how she bought the wool knit caps for her girls when they as a family of four walked into the DNC convention and Sasha did not want her cap on her head.
The world of dirty politics is no surprise, the birther controversy, how her words about being proud to be American got twisted and landed her into a media uproar, low blows by Republicans; all of that is mentioned.
She is a style icon whether she wanted to be one or not and it’s commendable that she brought lesser known and minority designers to the forefront. The let’s move initiative, fresh produce gardening in the White house, meeting the troops; all of these are laudable efforts. Michelle and Barack are a classy couple who are in love and she tries her best to hold on to her family and keep life simple and uncomplicated for her girls, despite being under public scrutiny.
In this book, Michelle talks about experiencing infertility. When she finally became pregnant, it ended in miscarriage, an experience she describes as “lonely, painful, and demoralizing almost on a cellular level.” She went on to conceive her daughters through IVF. I wish she had talked openly about this struggle during her time in the White house. It would have helped shine a light on infertility which effects one in eight couples in America. She could have raised awareness and helped reduce the stigma and silence around infertility in society. I also wish the Obamas had done more to save her hometown of Chicago from strife and inner city violence.
I was a little disappointed to know that she will not run for office. I hope it’s a case of never say never. I hope her journey of 'becoming more' includes a tenure or two as the first female president of America. She would absolutely have my vote. It is truly inspiring when she writes," becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, and a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.”
Some of my favorite quotes from the memoir include:
“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”
“Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization. It's the ugliest kind of power.”
“And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”
"For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same."
“Bullies were scared people hiding inside scary people.”
“I didn't want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home. We didn't wait for Dad. It was his job now to catch up with us.”
“Barack and I developed a special fondness for Queen Elizabeth, who reminded Barack of his no-nonsense grandmother. Over the course of many visits she showed me that humanity is more important than protocol or formality.”
“I’ve wanted to ask my detractors which part of that phrase matters to them the most—is it “angry” or “black” or “woman”?”
For a list of books by women who empower and lead Click Here
For a list of some other bestselling biographies of 2018 Click Here
Research and Readers Advisory Professional
Loves learning about other cultures and broadening her reading horizons through a vast selection of multicultural fiction.