In the age of general over-sharing, memoirs and biographies can be a tricky thing. First, they hardly ever make for really good reading in the literary sense of the word. Second, presented with any celebrity’s attempt to spill the beans in a book format I usually reach for a bucket rather than my credit card. Even in the rare case that there’d be anything left from years of sharing on various social media platforms, should it not just be kept for the personal diaries? In addition, if the person in question has spent 8 years living in a fishbowl called the White House, it raises even further questions: what can we possibly be told hat has not been covered by one or the other media already?
Michelle Obama’s Becoming became available today and I leapt to get my copy which I had pre-ordered (as if one of the most awaited celebrity books would somehow miraculously run out of copies…) because I’m a hopeless nerd. As is the case, all of the juicy gossip (miscarriage! IVF! Marital counselling!) had already been published as the press embargo was lifted last night. The book is a mighty giant of over 400 pages, so Obama sure has had lots of things to share with us (which is fair enough, given that the book deal of Michelle & Barack’s respective memoirs totals to 60 million American dollars).
I like reading memoirs and biographies, despite them usually not comparing to novels on literary merit. In the case of Becoming I have many principled reasons why I want to read it. I am afraid of almost everything in the current world. Most things make me either scared or anxious. There are very few people to look up to these days (and I don’t mean in weird admiration/fascination, but simply to be inspired and motivated by), especially as regards women in leadership positions.
Compared to male politicians and entrepreneurs, women who write about themselves are still much rarer. You really have to read what you get, as it were. A few years back I was working in a particularly male-dominated field and the public space was almost exclusively occupied by men for a very intense period of a couple of years. I had written down in my diary one day, just before going to speak to a group of students, how I checked out economist Noreena Hertz’s website just to see pictures of her taking the stage in Diane von Fürstenberg dresses and being whip-smart and fabulous. I felt very strange reading my diary entry now. I remembered it, but had never quite realised how badly I needed to remind myself of the mere existence of leading women (I had read Hertz’s Global Takeover and while we can have many opinions about her political views, I thought her to stand out as a very glamorous personality in the sea of male economists)!
Michelle Obama was the first black woman to occupy the public space where she did, and she got insane amounts of shit for it. I’m curious to read how she felt about that. Hillary Clinton wrote about her experiences of having her looks, body, personality, everything scrutinised and mocked globally for years on end in What Happened, and I found these parts to be the most honest. I also want to test myself how much I manage to read the book without thinking Michelle Obama foremost as the well-dressed side-kick of Barack Obama (would there be a book about her without Barack? Would I care about her were it not for her husband? Would I read the memoir of Laura Bush?).
I shall not be writing a review of Becoming because thousands of professional writers have done so already, therefore I merely listed some reasons why I will read it. Practical advise for your planning purposes: friend told me that the English audio-book is read by Michelle Obama herself and it’s 19 hours long.
Michelle Obama’s husband’s book is out next spring, and I shall be reading it as well.