Becoming (Obama)

Becoming 
Michelle Obama, 2018
Crown Publishing
448 pp.
ISBN-13:
9781524763138 


Summary
An intimate, powerful, and inspiring memoir by the former First Lady of the United States
 
In a life filled with meaning and accomplishment, Michelle Obama has emerged as one of the most iconic and compelling women of our era.

As First Lady of the United States of America—the first African American to serve in that role—she helped create the most welcoming and inclusive White House in history, while also establishing herself as a powerful advocate for women and girls in the U.S. and around the world.

She dramatically changed the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, while standing with her husband as he led America through some of its most harrowing moments. Along the way, she showed us a few dance moves, crushed Carpool Karaoke, and raised two down-to-earth daughters under an unforgiving media glare.
 
In her memoir, a work of deep reflection and mesmerizing storytelling, Michelle Obama invites readers into her world, chronicling the experiences that have shaped her—from her childhood on the South Side of Chicago to her years as an executive balancing the demands of motherhood and work, to her time spent at the world’s most famous address.

With unerring honesty and lively wit, she describes her triumphs and her disappointments, both public and private, telling her full story as she has lived it—in her own words and on her own terms.

Warm, wise, and revelatory, Becoming is the deeply personal reckoning of a woman of soul and substance who has steadily defied expectations—and whose story inspires us to do the same. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio
Birth—January 17, 1964
Where—Chicago, Illinois, USA
Education—B.A., Princeton University; J.D., Harvard University
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois


Michelle Robinson Obama served as First Lady of the United States from 2009 to 2017. A graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, Mrs. Obama started her career as an attorney at the Chicago law firm Sidley & Austin, where she met her future husband, Barack Obama.

She later worked in the Chicago mayor’s office, at the University of Chicago, and at the University of Chicago Medical Center. Mrs. Obama also founded the Chicago chapter of Public Allies, an organization that prepares young people for careers in public service.
 
The Obamas currently live in Washington, DC, and have two daughters, Malia and Sasha. (From the publisher.)



Book Reviews
Becoming divulges some details that the Obamas haven't discussed publicly before.… But it's the moments when [Michelle] Obama tries to make sense of what she's seeing now, in the country, that are among the most moving—if only because she's so clearly struggling to reconcile the cleareyed realism of her upbringing, brought about by necessity, with the glamorous, previously unthinkable life she has today.… For all the attempts by conservatives a decade ago to paint her as a radical, Obama seems to be a measured, methodical centrist at heart. But hers isn't a wan faith in expanding the pie and crossing the aisle. Her pragmatism is tougher than that, even if it will come across as especially frustrating to those who believe that centrism and civility are no longer enough. As she writes in Becoming, she long ago learned to recognize the "universal challenge of squaring who you are with where you come from and where you want to go."
Jennifer Szalai - New York Times

Becoming serenely balances gravity and grace, uplift and anecdote, though its high-mindedness does permit a few low blows at Barack Obama’s villainous successor. A single sentence catches the blend of conscientious bass and giggly treble that makes Michelle simultaneously admirable and adorable.… Becoming is frequently funny, sometimes indignant or enraged, and when Michelle describes her father’s early death from multiple sclerosis it turns rawly emotional.
Guardian (UK)


More like a novel than a political memoir, the First Lady’s book reveals its author as utterly, viscerally human.… [It is] beautiful and extraordinary.
Vanity Fair


The former first lady looks back on an unlikely rise to the top while navigating issues of race and gender in this warmhearted memoir.… There are no dramatic revelations and not much overt politics here, but fans of the Obamas will find an interesting, inspiring saga of quiet social revolutions.
Publishers Weekly


From the former First Lady, here's a memoir starting with her childhood on Chicago's South Side and leading to her life at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where she raised her children gracefully while representing the United States to the world.
Library Journal



Discussion Questions
1. Mrs. Obama begins her book with a story about making cheese toast on a quiet night at home, a few months after leaving the White House. Why do you think she chose this story to begin her memoir?

2. Mrs. Robinson is the opposite of a helicopter parent. She was tough and had very high expectations for her children, and she also expected them to figure some things out on their own and learn from their missteps and the process of making choices. She gave her children agency at a very young age. How did that shape Mrs. Obama? What is the balance between discipline and trust?

3. In Becoming, we get to know the constellation of Mrs. Obama’s extended family through her eyes. Her grandfather, Southside filled his house with music and makeshift speakers and merriment. Years later, Mrs. Obama would fill the White House with music and culture through live performances and several programs aimed at children. How do those kinds of early memories leave an imprint on us as we grow older? What were the sights and smells that you remember from visiting grandparents or other elders, and how have they left a mark on you?

4. In discussing her neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, Mrs. Obama writes, "Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result. It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear." How did this insight shape Mrs. Obama’s work and mission as First Lady? What can we all do—as individuals, parents, and community members—to help break this cycle?"

5. Mrs. Obama writes about the early influences of her mother, Marion Robinson, and her TV role model Mary Tyler Moore. One was a single, professional living on her own in the big city. One was a wise and supportive stay-at-home mother, who later went to work to help pay for her children’s education. Where do you see the influences of both of these women in Mrs. Obama’s life?

6. Early in her senior year at Whitney Young High School, Mrs. Obama went for an obligatory first appointment with the school college counselor. Mrs. Obama was treasurer of the senior class. She had earned a spot in the National Honor Society. She was on track to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class and she was interested in joining her older brother, Craig, at Princeton University. The guidance counselor said to her, "I’m not sure that you’re Princeton material." How did Mrs. Obama handle hearing that statement? How does one avoid having one’s dreams dislodged by someone else’s lower expectations?

7. In high school Mrs. Obama said she felt like she was representing her neighborhood. At Princeton, faced with questions of whether she was the product of Affirmative Action programs, she felt like she was representing her race. Was that more than a feeling? Was she actually representing her communities in those settings? Have you had moments in life where you feel as though you are representing one of your communities?

8. In her early life Mrs. Obama writes about being a "box checker," but as she gets older she learns how to "swerve" to adjust to life’s circumstances. What does it mean to swerve and how do we develop that skill in life?

9. In Becoming, Mrs. Obama describes a number of women who have served as mentors for her at different times in her life, including Czerny Brasuell, Valerie Jarrett, and Susan Sher. What do these women have in common? What lessons did Mrs. Obama learn from them about finding a fulfilling career as a parent? Who are your mentors and how do you cultivate those relationships?

10. In Chapter 15, Mrs. Obama explains why she chose to support her husband’s run for the presidency despite her misgivings about politics. What made her change her mind? Would you have made the same choice? How do you balance the competing worlds of family life and work in your life?

11. As Mrs. Obama notes, First Lady is a role without a job description. How did Mrs. Obama choose to approach the role? If you were in charge of writing the job description for the First Lady, what would you include and exclude?

12. In Becoming, Mrs. Obama writes candidly about detractors who tried to invalidate her standing or her work. "I was female, black, and strong, which to certain people, maintaining a certain mind-set, translated only to ‘angry.’ It was another damaging cliche, one that’s been forever used to sweep minority women to the perimeter of every room, an unconscious signal not to listen to what we’ve got to say." What is the root of that "angry black woman" cliche? How and why does it do damage?

13. Throughout her life, Michelle Obama has been a meticulous planner. It is evident in her approach to her studies in high school and at Princeton. It is evident in the way she transitioned through jobs as a professional. And it is evident in the way she approached her role as First Lady. Where did that come from? How did Fraser Robinson’s approach to life impact his daughter? Are you a planner or more spontaneous? How does it impact those around you and your life?

14. In the epilogue, Mrs. Obama writes, "I’ve never been a fan of politics, and my experience over the last ten years has done little to change that." Did you find her statement surprising? Do you think politics is an effective way to make social change?

15. Why do you think Michelle Obama chose to name her memoir "Becoming"? What does the idea of "becoming" mean to you?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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