Becoming by Michelle Obama

You’ve heard about Michelle Obama’s memoir, no doubt. It was always destined to be the Christmas purchase for many late last year. I spent a good chunk of my holiday listening to the audiobook. And yes, I’m here to confirm reports. It is really very good.

What’s most striking, perhaps, is that Michelle dodges so many bullets. The book never preaches. It doesn’t feel as though it were written by someone of a passionate political persuasion - even though it was. Michelle never pauses to wag her finger at anyone. Because of this, disappointingly to some, it is not a pre-amble to a 2020 presidential run. It’s not an outline of a vision for America. The good news is, this makes it a great memoir. Michelle knows what her readers want and delivers it: the real, felt experience of her life. 

Listening to the audiobook in particular, it’s hard not to walk away feeling like you know her. She’s incredibly, astoundingly normal. It’s this very feature that seemed to make the Obamas so popular back in 2007. Their tenure in the White House is historic for countless reasons, but they challenged their foes to match them in authenticity. Ironically, one could argue, authenticity won the race again in 2016. Authenticity doesn’t stop you from being a jerk.

But this again, is why the memoir is so good. Michelle is able to be authentic and believable because she’s not trying to convince you of anything. She’s an incredibly rare political agent. She’s been inside the system, at the very top of the very top, and has come down from on high to share her experience, but she doesn’t particularly care what you think of her after. She’d like you to vote. She’d like you to be informed about the world. But even this is never enforced. She’s a good writer, in that her function matches her form. She’s here to write a good memoir.

So it’s all here: the early romance with other boys, the head-swirling love with Barack. The doubt she felt over his campaign runs. The guilt she struggled with as a mother. The marriage counselling. The countless White House anecdotes. Meeting the Queen. Sneaking outside the White House to celebrate marriage equality. The travel, the food, the glamour. The hard-working family trying to maintain its own, private identity within the enormous machine. And of course, a unique and telling insight into her husband.

The book doesn’t aim to be inspirational, but it finds its way to profundity regularly. Michelle never gives advice, but her personal lived experience holds a heavy wisdom. There’s guides here on how to deal with bullies, how to maintain a marriage, how to make the best of a horrible situation, and the value of humour. 

Someone probably gave you this book for Christmas. It’s enormously enjoyable, and most wonderfully consumed in long, steady gulps. Audiobook is highly recommended for long drives, jogs, and house cleaning.