Becoming by Michelle Obama is an engaging memoir from the former First Lady of the U.S. Full of deep reflection and vivid storytelling, it’s a must-read.
The book starts off after the Obamas have finished eight years in the White House. Michelle and the family moved into their new home in D.C. and Michelle was alone, other than a group of guards close by, and thinking how she’s able to make her own food without someone insisting they’ll do it for her and how she can finally open up a window without causing a security issue. The sudden stillness gives her a chance to reflect and there’s plenty she wants to say.
After that preface, the book is divided into the three key sections: Becoming Me (documenting her childhood, her close relationship with her parents and brother and going to Princeton); Becoming Us (meeting and marrying Barack, the campaign and his win to become president of the U.S) and Becoming More (her time as the First Lady). It’s a well-written and thoughtful memoir.
I just loved this line from her:
“I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey.”
Let’s get into the book club questions
- Let’s talk about the preface, how did it help set the stage for Michelle telling her story in her own words? What do you think were some of the goals of her memoir; what key points did she want to convey to the public?
- In Becoming Me, we get to know Michelle as a child and her parents and brother. Her parents made sure education was a focus. On page 40, Michelle remembers that when she was about ten and chatting with a group of girls her age, a distant cousin asks her why she talks like a “white girl.” Looking back, she recognized the challenge of “squaring who you are with where you came from and where you want to go.” Let’s talk about why this was an eye-opening interaction for her.
- Throughout her story, Michelle acknowledges that one reason she’s such a hard worker and goes the extra mile is because she’s always wondering: Am I good enough? Can you relate to feeling that way?
- Why do you think Michelle chose to attend Princeton over other colleges? Why did she decide to become a lawyer?
- Let’s talk about when Michelle and Barack first meet. Why do you think they were so drawn to each other? Reading about them young and in love, did you learn anything new about both of them?
- Michelle experiences loss in her 20s from her best friend passing away to the loss of her beloved father. On page 146, she says that losing her dad reminded her that life is short and not to be wasted. Let’s talk about how she made the steps to change her life and career after experience loss.
- After Michelle and Barack get married, she recognizes their differences; he’s an individualist while she’s an outgoing family woman. But she says, “you find ways to adapt. If you’re in it forever, there’s really no choice.” What do you think about that section? In what ways did they both adjust to each other’s different habits?
- Michelle is very open about their fertility struggles, which oftentimes is not discussed. Why do you think this topic is so taboo in our society?
- She also opens up about how her and Barack saw a couple’s counselor. Why was it important for her to share this?
- We follow Barack’s rise to eventually running for president and while Michelle knows what an intelligent and capable man he is, she’s worried about the impact of politics on the family. She says on page 224 that she “wanted Barack for our family. Everyone else seemed to want him for our country.” She asks herself if she was afraid or just tired? What do you think were some of the key reasons she was hesitant about politics? Why do you think she finally was ok with him running?
- Michelle talks often of balancing being a mother with a career. She’s honest about the complications that arise, especially with factoring in Barack’s career choices, too. Let’s discuss this and how someone always has to make sacrifices when trying to balance it all.
- What did you think about the sections dedicated to campaigning? What stuck out to you? Would you ever want to run for office or have your spouse run? Why or why not?
- During the campaign, both Barack and Michelle receive so much attention—especially from celebrities. On page 257, Michelle details how surreal it was to have Oprah text her and Stevie Wonder call her by her first name as if they’ve known each other forever. Do you think one ever adjusts to becoming famous like that?
- When Michelle starts campaigning for Barack, the media scrutinizes everything she says. It shows not only the pressure of politics for the candidate but also for the spouse. This is also when the media tries to paint her as an “angry black woman.” Let’s discuss this and how she rose above it.
- After Barack wins, Michelle becomes the first African American First Lady. She immediately decides that she won’t play a passive role. Let’s talk about how she’s different from other first ladies.
- What did you think about the ‘behind the scenes’ look at life in the White House?
- Michelle was focused on several initiatives during her time as First Lady: combating childhood obesity with healthy eating and exercise and encouraging education, especially among women and minorities. Let’s discuss her initiatives and why they are so important.
- A key section in the novel is when Michelle meets Nelson Mandela. She writes:
“Life was teaching me that progress and change happen slowly. Not in two years, four years, or even a lifetime. We were planting seeds of change, the fruit of which we might never see. We had to be patient.”
Let’s talk about how this relates to their time in the White House and in the aftermath.
- What are some of the highlights for you in this read?
- If you could ask Michelle Obama one question, what it would be?
- Michelle says that “Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.” What does ‘Becoming’ mean to you?
For Michelle and Barak Obama content, check out these recommendations:
Chasing Light: Michelle Obama Through the Lens of a White House Photographer is a collection of intimate photographs of Michelle Obama—many never before seen—coupled with personal reflections and behind-the-scenes stories from Official White House Photographer Amanda Lucidon. You can purchase the book on Amazon here.
Another photography book is Obama: An intimate Portrait by Peter Souza, the former chief official white house photographer. During Barack Obama’s two terms, Pete Souza was with the President during more crucial moments than anyone else–and he photographed them all. Souza captured nearly two million photographs of President Obama, in moments highly classified and disarmingly candid. You can purchase the book here.