Becoming by Michelle Obama – Book

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“For eight years, I lived in the White House, a place with more stairs than I can count – plus elevators, a bowling alley, and an in-house florist. I slept on a bed that was made-up with Italian linens. Our meals were cooked by a team of world class chefs and delivered by professionals more highly trained than those at any five-star restaurant or hotel. Secret Service agents, with their earpieces and guns, deliberately flat expressions, stood outside our doors, doing their best to stay out of our family’s private life. We got used to it eventually, sort of – the strange grandeur of our new home and also the constant, quiet presence of others.

 The White House is where our two girls played ball in the hallways and climbed trees on the South Lawn. It’s where Barack sat up late at night poring over briefings and drafts of speeches in the Treaty Room, and where Sunny, one of our dogs, sometimes pooped on the rug. I could stand on the Truman Balcony and watch tourists posing with their selfie sticks and peering through the iron fence, trying to guess at what went on inside. There were days when I felt suffocated by the fact that our windows had to be kept shut for security, that I couldn’t get some fresh air without causing a fuss. There were other times when I’d be awestruck by the white magnolias blooming outside, the everyday bustle of government business, the majesty of a military welcome. There were days, weeks, and months, when I hated politics. And there were moments when the beauty of this country and its people so overwhelmed me that I couldn’t speak.

 Then it was done.”

This is the voice of Michelle Obama in her biography/memoir, Becoming. Her story would be a great American story if she and Barack had never occupied the White House as President and First Lady, but it becomes a public rather than a private story because that happened. It happened to these two quintessentially American people while they were still quite young. Michelle spent her childhood on Chicago’s South side which was calmer and safer than it is today. She had a childhood that rivals that of any middle class American. She had two steady, loving parents. She had a father with MS who downplayed his physical challenges and went off to his job every day. Her extended family kept in touch with each other because her father had a beloved car (the deuce and a half) and he loved to go visit family members near and far. She knew racism but her parents kept it at a distance.

Michelle’s life was so much like the life I lived with my family that it evoked times that offered more stability than many children find today. She was good in school, she learned to play piano from her stern aunt who lived downstairs. As she grew her confidence in herself grew until it took her all the way to Princeton and a prestigious downtown Chicago law firm, where a young man named Barack Obama became a summer intern, then Michelle’s beau, and eventually her husband. Michelle had no calling for politics. While Barack finished a delayed college stint, she quit her fancy firm to do things that would lift up the people who grew up around her on Chicago’s South Side, and other, even poorer, Chicago neighborhoods, by running two very successful community programs. But Barack believed that the way to help even more people led through politics and, once he began, his career path took off like a rocket aimed right at Washington, DC and the Presidency.

Barack’s childhood was not as conventional as Michelle’s. He was the product of an unlikely union between a white woman from Kansas and a man from Kenya. His parents were estranged but his mother liked to travel. He spent several childhood years in Indonesia, but his real home was in Hawaii with his grandparents. He obviously also received enough loving support to grow into a very calm and confident person who ended up at Harvard, the Senate, and the White House.

This is a book that I enjoyed cover to cover. It uses no literary devices, no fiction-writing skills. It is what it is and that perfectly represents Michelle Obama; at least it seems she must be as she presents herself or she could not have written this memoir. If this were not her authentic self then she could not have written such a sweet book, and I mean sweet in the sense of offering a true taste of a good life, an American sweet spot, so far well-lived. The gracious way the Obamas lived in the White House makes them one of the great American Presidential families. I liked Michelle Robinson Obama before I read her story, and I like her even better now. The amenities of the White House, and the duties of state did not overwhelm her, but she did not take the privileges for granted either. Leaving the White House was a bittersweet experience because of the people who made their lives there so comfortable, not because she would miss the trappings of power. Barack and Michelle may be the first couple who did not arrive in the President’s house through an aristocratic American family.

Photo Credit:  From a Google image search – Getty

January 2019 Book List

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January 2019 Book List

The year is beginning with a pretty slim list of new books. Many of these books were on my previous lists. The Amazon always publishes a list of the books for the current month, so those titles are new. The New York Times Book Review did not offer a lot that was new and Publisher’s Weekly was mostly looking back at the best books of 2018 so I did not even include PW in this month’s list. This gives us a bit of breather to try to catch up on our reading. (haha)

Amazon

Literature and Fiction

Elsey Come Home: A Novel by Susan Conley

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

An Orchestra of Minorities by Chigozie Obloma

Ghost Wall: A Novel by Sarah Moss

Unmarriageable: A Novel by Soniah Kamal

Late in the Day: A Novel by Tessa Hadley

99 Nights in Logar by Jamil Jan Kochai

The Far Field by Madhuri Vijay

The Weight of a Piano: A Novel by Chris Cander

Sugar Run: A Novel by Mesha Maren

Mysteries and Thrillers

Freefall: A Novel by Jessica Barry

The Burglar by Thomas Perry

An Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks, Sarah Pekkanen

The Au Pair by Emma Rous

The Suspect by Fiona Barton

The Paragon Hotel by Lyndsay Faye

The Dreamers: A Novel by Karen Thompson Walker

No Exit: A Novel by Taylor Adams

She Lies in Wait: A Novel by Gytha Lodge

The Current: A Novel by Tim Johnston

Nonfiction

The Longest Line on the Map: The United States, the Pan American Highway, and the Quest to Link the Americans by Eric Rutkow

The Soprano Sessions by Matt Zoller Seitz, Alan Sepinwall, David Chase

It Was All a Dream: New Generation Confronts the Broken Promise to Black America by Reniqua Allen

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

The Birth of Loud: Leo Fender, Les Paul and the Guitar-Pioneering Rivalry that Shaped Rock ‘n’ Roll by Ian S. Port

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: Native America from 1890 to the Present by David Freuer

Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

Why We Fight: One Man’s Search for Meaning Inside the Ring by Josh Rosenblatt

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff

Breaking and Entering: The Extraordinary Story of a Hacker called “Alien” by Jeremy Smith

Biographies and Memoirs

Queen Victoria: Twenty-Four Days that Changed Her Life by Lucy Worsley

Out of the Gobi: My Story of China and America by Weijian Shan

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love by Dani Shapiro

When Death Becomes Life: Notes from a Transplant Surgeon by Joshua Mezrich

Prisoner: My 544 Days in an Iranian Prison – Solitary Confinement, a Sham Trial, High Stakes Diplomacy and the Extraordinary Efforts it Took to Get Me Out by Jason Rezaian

Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Whithers by Preston Lauterbach

Hollywood’s Eve: Eve Rabitz and the Secret History of L.A. by Lili Anolik

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive by Stephanie Land, Barbara Ehrenreich

The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man’s Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America by Tommy Tomlinson

Joy Enough: A Memoir by Sarah McColl

Science Fiction and Fantasy

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi

48 Hours by William R Forstchen

The Winter of the Witch (3rdbook in the Winternight Trilogy) by Katherine Arden

Marked by S. Andrew Swann

New York Times Book Review

Dec. 9

Fiction

The Little Snake by A. I. Kennedy

Those Who Knew by Idra Novey

Love is Blind by William Boyd

Short Story Collections

Catch, Release by Adrianne Harun

Better Times by Sara Batkie

Its Color They Are Fine by Alan Spence

The Dogs of Detroit by Brad Felver

Nonfiction

Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know by Colm Toibin

Why Religion? By Elgin Pagels

The End of the End of the Earth by Jonathan Franzen (essays)

We Begin in Gladness by Craig Morgan Teicher

John Marshall by Richard Brookhiser

Books That Give Hope

Interior States by Meghan O’Greblyn (essays)

What If this Were Enough? by Heather Havulesky (essays)

Books by Lucia Berlin

Evening in Paradise: More Stories by Lucia Berlin

Welcome Home: A Memoir with Selected Photographs and Letters by Lucia Berlin

Books About What Ails America

The Politics of Petulance by Alan Wolfe

America Compromised by Lawrence Lessig

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America’s Most Powerful Mobster by Stephen I. Carter

Dec. 16

Poetry – This week NYT Book Review featured poetry.

Nonfiction

Kurt Vonnegut’s World War II Scrapbook

New and Noteworthy

Perennial by Kelly Forsythe

Anagnorisis by Kyle Dargan

Who is Mary Sue? By Sophie Collins

The Gilded Auction Block by Shane McCrae

So Far So Good by Ursula K LeGuin

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley Ward

There Will Be No Miracles Here by Casey Gerald

Dec. 23

Nonfiction

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Man in the Glass House by Mark Lamster

The Patch by John McPhee (essays)

The Day that Went Missing by Richard Beard

Bringing Down the Colonel by Patricia Miller

Creating Things that Matter by David Edwards

Fewer, Better Things by Glenn Adamson

Nothing is Lost: Selected Essays by Ingrid Sischy

The Nationalist Revival by John B Judis

Fiction

All the Lives We Never Lived by Anuraha Roy

Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates

Come With Me by Helen Schulman

The Shortlist

Inhuman Resources by Pierre Lemaitre

An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten (short stories)

Some Like Me by M.R. Carey

Dec. 30

Fiction

Insurrecto by Gina Apostol

Graphic Novels That Defy Gender Norms

Dirty Plotte by Julie. Doucet

Fruit of Knowledge: TheVulva vs The Patriarchy by Liz Stromquist

My Brother’s Husband, Volume 2 by Gengoroh Tagame, trans. by Anne Ishii

Flocks by L. Nicols

Fiction

In Our Mad and Furious City by Guy Gunaratne

The Day The Sun Died by Yan Lianke

Nonfiction

Late-Life Love by Susan Gubar

God in the Qur’an by Jack Miles

The British in India by David Gilmour

3 French Novels

Tell Them of Battles, Kings, and Elephants by Mathias Énard, trans. by Charlotte Mandel

Sleep of Memory by Patrick Modiano, trans. by Mark Polizzotti

Strike Your Heart by Amélie Nothomb, trans. by Alison Anderson

New and Noteworthy – Audiobooks

Where Do We Go From Here by Bernie Sanders

Jeff Wayne’s The War of the World’s: The Musical Drama by H.G. Wells

Broken Ground by Val McDermid

Wrinkle in Time by Margaret L’Engle

Chasing Hillary by Amy Chozick

8 New Books We Recommend

Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl: Volume 1 and 2 by Uwe Johnson, trans. by Damian Searls

The Word Pretty by Elisa Gabbert

Come With Me by Helen Schulman

The Man in the Glass House: Philip Johnson, Architect of the Modern Century by Mark Lamster

The Patch by John McPhee

Nothing is Lost: Selected Essays by Ingrid Sischy, edited by Sandra Brant

The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard

Someone Like Me by M.R. Carey