Becoming: Book Review

October 31, 2019

Becoming (2018), Michelle Obama, interesting and inspirational memoir by the former First Lady. She grew up in a working class home in South Chicago to become a beloved person (by most people) in America and around the world. As she put it: "I had nothing or I had everything. It depends on which way you want to tell it. ... I'd been privileged to move through it, experiencing its bracing contradictions and bitter conflicts, its pain and persistent idealism, and above all else its resilience" (p. 416). In her version, it was everything, a close family, love, hard work (by her parents and others, as well as herself), and a drive for success. She was extraordinarily successful, going from Princeton to Harvard law to a prestigious Chicago law firm (where she met Barack), then soon discovered she didn't like her corporate law profession (note that she was good at it). She moved to nonprofit work which she enjoyed [too bad about all those student loans]. She sacrificed a lot for Barack's political career (and producing two kids) [She seemed to be only modestly bitter about her back-breaking pace.] She seems to be basically apolitical and perhaps would have made a great political leader herself (yes, I think she would have made a better president than Barack; sorry, Mr. President, I have every post-war president categorized as mediocre, including you; you do rate high mediocre). 

 

The most interesting part to me was growing up in working class South Chicago (the same South Chicago that makes the news for gangs and violence). She was driven, made good grades, played piano, thanks in part to good parenting and extended family. Her parents sacrificed a lot for her and her brother, including sending her to Paris when her French class was going. [Michelle never mentioned it to her folks, assuming it was too expensive, They found out anyway and chastised her for not telling them--raising the money was their problem, not hers]. About piano lessons: "I gave her (her aunt and piano teacher) little credit for my improvement as a player. She gave me little credit for improving" (p. 12); no sympathy for either her or her teacher from her parents. [Sounds familiar; fortunately, education has improved.] Her years at Princeton was covered quickly and virtually none for Harvard law. The bulk of the book is about her years with Barack; seemingly somewhat frustrating given their very different goals. Her feelings included " toppling blast of lust," which may become one of my favorite quotes. As he moved into politics, she concentrated mainly on non-profit work.

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© 2016 Gary Giroux

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