Becoming by Michelle Obama (2018)

 

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I wanted to love this memoir because I love Michelle. And I can’t quite put my finger on why I didn’t love it. It has a “first this happened, then this happened, then this happened” sort of feel to it.  Maybe that’s because of its chronological organization of three sections: pre-Barack (Becoming Me), marriage and kids (Becoming Us) and moving to the White House (Becoming More). But many memoirs are written chronologically and it’s not bothersome. I guess I felt like she revealed a lot about herself and her marriage and her life as First Lady while at the same time keeping the reader at a distance.  I remember reading An Hour Before Daylight, one of Jimmy Carter’s earlier memoirs (he has many), and feeling like I was having a personal, fireside chat with him.  Or Nelson Mandela’s A Long Walk to Freedom where I felt like I was walking that horrific journey at his side. With Becoming, I felt like I was reading about her life without really getting to know her. Like there was a veil between her story and her. I know privacy has always been important to her, but publicly she seems so personable and warm–and yet her memoir feels distant. She shares her struggles with self-confidence despite academic success, her challenges in balancing work/family life along with Barack’s career, her misgivings about his running for President, and her lack of certainty about stepping into the role of First Lady. The book jacket says she writes with “uncommon candor” and offers a “vivid account”.  In a way those statements feel true, and yet…it still felt like she was holding the reader an arm’s length away. Like she was trying to present herself rather than be herself.
Nevertheless, I loved learning about her childhood, career, parents, neighborhood, school, friends, Chicago history, college, marriage, politics, and The White House. I feel better informed, and I feel like I know more about her.  But I still feel like I don’t know her.

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