original post date - february 2, 2019
#BrenasBookClub- "Becoming" by Michelle Obama
I made a goal to read more, and this was the first book of the year that I finished. In this post, I talk about my forever First Lady's memoir and things I learned from it.
*** Disclaimer - Issa long one. Go ahead and grab a snack, some water, a blanket, something. Get comfortable for a second. ***
Okay so I kinda decided I wanna do a little series of book reviews. Well maybe not reviews in the sense that we think of them. More like I wanna read some books, tell y’all about them while doing my best not to spoil them, and tell y’all some of the things I seen paralleled in my life. I’ve decided to call it Brena’s Book Club. I don’t exactly know where the idea came from or even if I would call it a series because they'll be more sporadic than continuous. It’s more of my just reflections. Part of me doing this stems from wanting some form of accountability with my goal of pleasure-reading more and building my personal library, but I also feel like it would be a refreshing pause from our usual one-sided conversations. In addition to that, it’s just a good way for me to give book suggestions. I know I’ll be late to the party on some of these books, but better late than never.
I decided that the first book I wanted to talk about is Becoming by Michelle Obama. Our forever FLOTUS has written a memoir about her journey to becoming the woman we all know and love. The book is set up by smaller chapters grouped into what I like to think of as three overarching phases of Aunt Michelle’s life: Becoming Me, Becoming Us, and Becoming More. I know a lot of us have probably seen videos or read articles about her book tour and press she’s doing, but I still wanna give my take on the book. I’ve had it since Thanksgiving Break, but with school wrapping up and having finals and whatnot, this book sat on my desk as a reminder that I could kick the semester’s ass. Needles to say, I didn’t have the time to read how I wanted, so I basically just got into the book. I’m gonna be writing this blog over the course of my reading this book so that y’all get my thoughts and reflections freshly as I’m reading. In talking about my thoughts on the book, I don’t wanna get too deep into the specific stories she’s told because I want people to have the chance to actually read the book for themselves. With that being said, let’s get to the goods.
It’s currently 2:16 AM on Monday, December 17th. I finished phase 1 of the book about 40 minutes ago and I’ve just been thinking and writing. This first phase of the book talks about Aunt Michelle’s early life. She spends a lot of this section talking about her roots, family life, and upbringing in Chicago in order to show us her foundation. She starts this section as a child, but takes us through her transitioning to high school and college, and ends this section talking about a specific period of time after she finished law school and was working at a law firm. After reading this beginning section of her memoir, I’ve become even more of a stan because it surprised me how much I identify with her personality. Even though she’s been on my radar the last 10-11 years of my life and displayed a lot of the woman she is, this book goes deeper. She talks about how she’s been determined from a young age and has always felt the need to be in some sort of control. This clicked with me because I’m the same way. I always have been. Much like her, when I was younger and other kids were outside playing or just doing what kids do, I had my face in a book somewhere or was just minding my own business. She eventually talks about how she grew out of that, but that tendency to retreat to her own thoughts was always important to her.
Another thing she talked about was how she seemed validation from some family members, peers, teachers, etc., and often doubted if she was good enough to be in the spaces where she was. I can relate to this because this is something I’m still trying to grow through on a daily basis. Sometimes we say we want to do certain things or have certain careers because of how impressive they sound or because they make a lot of money, but we do this without making sure our hearts are all the way in it. It can be hard at times to 1) find what that thing is and 2) articulate why we feel it’s our purpose. It can also be challenging when we’re around others who want to do things that are the same or similar, but their stories and reasons why sound SO much better. I know for me, I question if I’m good enough or deserve to be in the spaces I desire ALL THE TIME. As I’m thinking more and preparing for my next steps, I’ve often found myself feeling undeserving and anxious. I’ve been doubting my ability a lot lately and questioning whether or not I’m enough, and it’s gotten to a point where my own doubt doesn’t make sense to me when I look at my track record. In addition to that, another thing I’ve experienced that is brought up in this part of the book is presenting as “white” in one way or another. Sometimes it’s the way I talk, or the way I dress, or the fact that I haven't seen some of the movies that are basically totes of passage to get a Black card. Now this used to be a real conflict for me in high school, and even though it’s subsided through my HBCU experience, I feel it creeping back up as I prepare myself to possibly have to re-enter areas dominated my white men. Reading this first section of the memoir and seeing that Michelle Obama grappled with the same issues and still overcame them to become the greatness she is gives me a push I’ve REALLY needed lately.
It’s 1:19 PM on January 5th and I just finished the second part of the book. I’m at a hair salon trying to get fine before coming back to school and I’ve been reading for the last few hours.
This portion of the book spanned over a larger, more quickly moving portion of Aunt Michelle’s life. During this phase of the memoir, she talks about love, loss, laughs, let-downs, and all the life that happened in between. From losing her father to getting married, from miscarrying to becoming a mother of two beautiful children, from wishing her husband would step away from politics to helping him become the 44th POTUS, Aunt Chelle went chronicled about 19 years of life in the span of 182 pages. I felt the name for this section was appropriate because I saw the “Us” shift from “Us” as a married couple to an “Us” referring to the Obama familial unit and everything that came along with it.
She started this section of the book by talking about how her feelings for Uncle Barack began to grow and how nervous and intrigued it made her feel. I’m not gonna get too deep into it, but their love story is beautiful and that movie on Netflix didn’t do it any justice. She didn’t try to put him or herself on a pedestal. She just told it like it is. They were almost polar opposites, but appreciated each other’s differences while still remaining true to their respective cores. She talked about the struggles of the long-distance phases of their relationship, figuring out what worked for them, navigating their lives in their respective spheres, all while their love for each other grew. Eventually they got married and struggled with infertility and miscarriage before giving birth to their children. One thing I wasn’t expecting Aunt Michelle to talk about (even though it makes perfect sense) was the strain that Uncle Barack’s political career put on their marriage and their family. Every moment he was on a campaign trail or teaching a law school class or working to make this country better for everyone else was time he wasn’t devoting to his wife and children. His support was always there, but his presence was greatly missed.
Aunt Michelle also talked about her journey through different careers and finding what it was she wanted to do. She saw how Barack was able to align his career with his core values and she wanted to do the same. She went through several different occupations before finding one that was seemingly made for her, and after that she grappled with balancing her career with being a wife and working mother. Balance was one thing that was talked about a lot in this portion of the book, even though the aspects of life being balanced sometimes changed. Like a lot of wives and mothers I know, she wanted to make sure her husband and children were taken care of while not neglecting herself and her needs. Now I’m not anybody’s wife, and I’m definitely not anybody’s mama, but balance is another thing I tend to have to work really hard at, and often find myself falling short. If you’ve read other blog posts then you already know this, but if not then stay tuned.
In this section of the book, Aunt Chelle also talks about her perspective of the journey through Uncle Barack’s political career. All I can say is God bless them bc I don’t want anything to do with politics, nor do I feel like I’m cut out for any part of it. I enjoyed reading more about her thoughts about everything considering she once felt the same way, and I have even more respect for her after seeing how she juggled being a full-time mother and wife of a mostly absent and soon-to-be President, all while being heavily involved in the campaign and maintaining her own sense of self.
I noticed that through this portion of the book, a lot of the questions I have about my next phase of life were answered in Michelle’s. I already told y’all I felt connected to Aunt Michelle based on her personality and how she conveyed the way she thought about things, and I feel no different. If this section of the book taught me anything, it was that it’s okay for me to have certain goals for my personal life and career, but it’s more likely than not that those things may not happened in the cut-and-dry order that my list-making brain would like them to. As I think more about life and what I want, this becomes more apparent to me. And while I recognize I get generally anxious about the unknown, I try to find peace in the fact that everything will happen how it’s supposed to.
It’s 11:01 PM on Monday, January 21st and I FINALLY finished the book. In the concluding portion of her memoir, Aunt Chelle talks about the Obamas’ time in the White House. She talked about the transition, concerns she had for her family and raising her children, and what it was like for her to know the world was ALWAYS watching. Literally always, literally the entire world. Uncle Barack carried America on his shoulders, and she was his backspot. She saw what this thankless job did to her husband, and she was always there. Through every tragedy and through every victory.
Even though there have only been 3 First Ladies *that I recognize* in the White House during my 21 years, I always knew Aunt Michelle was the most active. I didn’t know the depth and breadth of all the things she did during her 8 years, but this section of the memoir revealed a lot of it to me. It also amazes me that she managed to do all this while raising two daughters. I admire that she didn’t let her new job description, or lack thereof, take precedence over the family life. She did her best to give her daughters the opportunity to just be kids and grow up the way the rest of us did, and it was no easy task. She bent rules, tried to break a few, but didn’t let 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue break who she was or what her values were.
Compared to the other parts of the book, I didn’t really feel as connected to Aunt Michelle. I still liked it a lot, I just didn’t see many things I could compare and contrast with my own life. If anything, I found myself comparing where I was when different major events happened to where she was, thinking back to see if I could remember my initial feelings and opinions. I thought about how different things were for me compared to her oldest daughter, considering we’re about the same age. This section of the book really made me wonder what a book from Malia and Sasha’s perspective about their lives in the White House would be like.
I’m not even gonna lie, in a lot of books I read, I don’t read the epilogue. I didn’t even intend to write about it, but Aunt Chelle had some good stuff in there. In addition to making it abundantly clear that she has no desire to run for office, she talked about what “becoming” meant to her, and I just wanted to include some of that because it’s really something to think about.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end…
… It’s all a process, steps along a path. Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor. Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done…
… It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and others. This, for me, is how we become.”
I definitely recommend this book. It was a great read to end my 2018 and start my 2019. It is long, as least for me, but I still enjoyed reading it and giving y'all my thoughts on it. For anyone who wants to purchase it, I’ll drop the Amazon link below, but it is available through other formats and stores as well. It’s available on iBooks as an e-book and as an audiobook narrated by Aunt Chelle herself, and it’s a few dollars cheaper than the hardcover. I just found that because I wanted a physical copy of the book, it was cheaper to order from Amazon than Barnes & Noble. Amazon also never fails me, so there’s that too. Thanks to a fellow Claflinite and blogger, kae.pea. (I also linked her blog below), I've learned there is a way to get a PDF of the book for only $3. I know we have to save our coins where we can, so I'm gonna let y'all in on it too. To get access to the PDF, send $3 to $bookedbusyua on Cash App and include your e-mail address and the book title in the description so they can send it to you. It worked for her, so I'm hoping it'll work for y'all too, but if not then I don't know what to tell you.
If you made it this far, you’re a real one. I know this post was long af. I expected it to be long because it’s not my usual talking about what’s going on in my head and I’ve been writing it over the course of a month, but I had no idea it would be this long. I was getting more comfortable with each post I’ve written up until this point, but for some reason I’m really nervous about how this one will be received. I honestly don’t know how any of my blog posts are received, so why am I nervous about this one? I don’t know. I just had an idea of what I wanted for Brena’s Book Club, and I’m not exactly sure if I’m hitting the mark. Let me know what y’all think about it so far and what I could change or how I could make it better in the future. I have a few more books that I’m working on reading as we speak, so I’d really appreciate some feedback.
Hold up wait a minute, y'all thought I was finished? Because I loved this book so much, I want to share it with a few of you. I'll be purchasing three (3) of the PDF versions of this book for some of my subscribers. The giveaway details and instructions will be on my Instagram story, but I'll drop them here too. Basically, you only have to do three simple things.
That's it. The three winners will be announced via my social media pages on Saturday, February 9th. May the odds be ever in your favor.
Live life. Be great. Flourish.