Never stop growing: Michelle Obama's "Becoming"
I read to explore thoughts, ideas, and different perspectives on a variety of issues of personal importance. A part of Wander Through will be dedicated to my personal interest in reading to explore and understand more about the lives of different people.
This past Saturday I had the opportunity to enjoy two of my favorite things: books and beer. I joined the Houston Women's Book Club at the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium to discuss our impressions of Michelle Obama's autobiography, Becoming, and I discovered that although all of the women who were a part of this meeting came from very different backgrounds and points of view, we all could relate to some aspect of Michelle Obama's story in a variety of ways.
First off, for those who haven't read her book or are trying to decide if they want to read it or not the answer is YES. If you feel like you don't have time to sit down and read then I strongly advise you to stream the audio book. And, if you want to stream this book for free, then you need to get a library card ASAP. With the audio book you have the opportunity to read (or listen) when you are "busy" driving to or from work, making dinner, washing dishes, or folding laundry. Every day for about a month Michelle Obama told me the story of her life. I listened to the audiobook version of her autobiography on my commute to and from work. I couldn't have started off the new year with a better voice and story.
This book is a story of her childhood in the south side of Chicago, her family, and her home life. It's about piano lessons with Aunt Robbie and the love for music she developed from the influence of her Uncle Southside who allowed her to listen to his Stevie Wonder albums as a youngster. It's about her experience in a failing school and her mother's efforts to intervene and, as a result, change the course of her life. It's about her first impressions of Barack Obama and how his passion and drive to help those in need prompted her to question her life and her dreams. It's about how even as a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law and a practicing lawyer, she hadn't immediately realized she was unhappy. This is a story about how Michelle Obama had checked all her boxes and did what she felt was expected of her and yet, meeting Barack Obama who, in her words, was swerving all over the place and unconcerned with materialism or any check marks to track his accomplishments, made her conscious of the fact that she was not enjoying her life as a lawyer. This is a story about how her relationship with her future husband and future President of the United States opened doors for her in ways that reconnected her with people and allowed her to use her experience growing up in Chicago's south side to have a direct effect on peoples lives.
There were so many moments in this book where I found myself nodding my head in agreement. From growing up in a neighborhood on the brink of decline, to being in classes with teachers who are overworked and underpaid and fellow students who are unaware of the systems in place that will likely prevent them from reaching their fullest potential (and realizing this as an adult with the benefit of age and perspective). I also loved hearing about Mr. and Mrs. Robinson, her parents, whose sole purpose and focus was their children. Their parenting style helped Michelle and her brother Craig learn from a very early age that their actions had consequences and that they were solely responsible for their actions and reactions. Although they weren't your typical "helicopter parents", hovering and micromanaging every aspect of their children's lives, they were attuned to their needs and listened to them. This parenting style seemed to guide and encourage both Michelle and her brother and set them up to be self-reliant and goal-oriented. However, it put a lot of weight on their success. The fact that they were the great-grandchildren of slaves and the grandchildren of a generation of individuals whose dreams had been deferred due to the limits of a system set up to limit access to opportunities for African Americans made the weight of their success even heavier. Michelle Obama concisely illuminates and summarizes the effects of institutionalized racism on generations of African Americans in a way that is absolutely indisputible and tangible for readers of all backgrounds.
I had the opportunity to discuss these topics with the Houston Women's Book Club and learned that although many of us come from different backgrounds and walks of life, we all finished the book with the same impressions. We all had a story that related to a specific topic covered in the memoir, which speaks to the overall scope of Michelle Obama's autobiography and her unique ability to reach people in all walks of life. Prior to the official book discussion, the segment of women I was seated near agreed with my sentiment that it was refreshing to hear from someone of prominence that knew what it was like to grow up like a regular person. Michelle Obama understands how fragile the lives and experiences of children can be, how the larger system can have a negative affect on individual people's lives. She understands the importance of race and the role it plays on outward perception and the influence this perception can have on the ways individuals view their own success and abilities. She knows what it's like to have debt. She just knew what it was like and that came across in her writing, the stories she decided to tell, and the the relationship she had with the public during her time as the First Lady of the United States.
I highly recommend this book because I promise you there is some part of Michelle Obama's story that you can relate to and that you will carry with you long after you finish reading, or listening.
Have you read Becoming, or do you plan to read it? Let me know what you think in the comments!