Do you belong to a book club? I was chatting to a friend the other day about her “Bolognaise and Books” club which meets once a month in someone’s house. The host has chosen the book of the month and cooks a Spag. Bol. for the hungry readers. It’s a nice idea. I used to belong to a book club but found my erratic work schedule got in the way of being a fully committed member of the club. Nowadays my reading tends to be in bursts or perhaps that’s binge reading. Engrossed in a book, I devour it. I’ve missed my station riding trains or I linger in a café, book in hand as the breakfast crowd makes way for bustling lunch- time swarm of workers.
I’ve recently had this besotted book experience with Michelle Obama’s autobiography “Becoming.” This ex-First Lady sure can write! It’s a beautiful book about her life growing up in the South side of Chicago through to her career as a Harvard educated lawyer, meeting her husband and life at the White House. But it’s not a dry retelling of history. It’s not a political manifesto. Neither is it a new found celebrity reveal to Oprah.
It is honest, intelligent, funny and relatable. Themes explored are those we see around us as a normal human condition. Balancing parenthood and career growth. Making the big complex decision to put your career on hold to support your partners’ career rise. How to bring up kids to be good human beings. The crafting of a successful marriage when each person is quite different in their individual needs for space and quiet balanced with coupled sharing and intimacy. What’s different in Michelle Obama’s world was and perhaps still is, life in a bubble of security, public scrutiny and carving a role as first lady beyond decorating and being decorative.
Michelle Obama’s story of date night as the president and first lady is hilarious and without giving too much away it involved much pre-planning, security, helicopters and a public theatre performance delayed by 45 minutes while the theatre was secured. Bizarre detail, silly detail stood out for me. If you live in the White House you can’t just cruise over to a window and open it or hang out in the garden or stand on the balcony. Everything is planned, secured and notice given of every movement by every member of the family no matter how small. Chatting to Queen Elizabeth about shoes at Buckingham palace, planting an edible garden at the White House and negotiating with the secret service to allow her daughter to buy ice-cream with friends are all insights into this fishbowl life.
The book’s title, Becoming has resonance for people at every stage of life. For Michelle Obama it’s about 3 chapters- Becoming Me, Becoming Us and Becoming More. She writes,
“I am still in progress and hope that I will always be. For me, 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 for a better self. The journey doesn’t end. ..Becoming is equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done“(p 419)
Some autobiographies are powerful because, in the story-telling of their life the author invites reflection by the reader of their own roads traveled. Becoming is such an invitation. It raises questions for people at any age about –how do we contribute to the society/ community we are a part of? How do we continue to grow and learn as we age? How do important relationships develop and reshape as things change and how do we parent/ grandparent to help build resilient, loving parents of the next generation. And how do we Become?
Worthy of the hard cover price and hours spent. What do you think?
Nora’s Rating ***** out of 5