This is an interesting book. I had some Audible credits to use up, so I downloaded this without many expectations. I usually listen to audiobooks while I walk my dogs or do housework, so usually I “re-read” a favorite book while doing something else. That means that if I miss something, I don’t lose track of the narrative. In this case, I had heard many positive reviews and thought I would give it a try. With the Audible credit, it worked out to be cheaper to purchase as an audiobook rather than an ebook.
This book is read by Michelle Obama herself, and that made it seem like she was talking directly to me. I have listened to other books read by the author (Yes Please by Amy Poehler, for example), but this is the first book where it felt like the author was talking directly to me. I don’t know if it is because of her writing style, her speaking style, or the fact that I think it would be interesting to have an actual conversation with Michelle Obama, but it made listening to this book a unique experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot.
Since this is a memoir, and not a biography, I found some gaps in her discussion of her life. In a biography, it is expected that the biographer will cover all aspects of the subject’s life, even things the subject may not wish discussed. Since this is a memoir, written by the subject, she gets to decide what is and is not discussed. I found it interesting she does discuss some of her time at Princeton, doing her undergraduate studies, but she discusses nothing about her time at Harvard in Law School. I have always found stories of people learning to become a teacher, or doctor, or lawyer fascinating, so I was disappointed this was skipped over. She expresses many times her dissatisfaction with her legal career, so I would have found it interesting to see any seeds of that during her education.
She also glosses over a lot of the presidential and primary campaigns before Barack Obama was elected president. She does talk about the controversy about “being proud to be an American for the first time” speech, and you understand how bewildering all the media attention was. She makes it clear that she does not like politics, but she is also a supportive wife to her husband, and supported his decision to run for political office. There is a lot of interesting discussion about the White House, and what a security detail can do to your life, and the lives of your children. She went 8 years without being able to open a window to feel the breeze, because that would be a security no-no. She also could not go out on the White House balcony for a bit of fresh air with an hour’s advance warning, and closing of the nearby street. I cannot imagine how limiting and claustrophobic that must be.
The book starts in her early childhood, and it was interesting to hear about her early family life. I did not know a lot about this, and I was surprised to learn how humble her beginnings were. She grew up living in the upper floor of an aunt and uncle’s house, in a small apartment with her brother and parents. There was not a lot of private space. The family was close, and I loved hearing about her relationship with her parents, particularly her mother. Marian Robinson seems to be a very strong woman.
The book ends when the Obama presidency ends. Her discussion of Donald Trump, and his “birther” lies, points out how dangerous Trump’s false conspiracy mongering was to the Obama family, and Barack Obama in particular. Michelle Obama was incredibly gracious to stand for decency and putting the country first, but she does talk about how halfway through the Trump inauguration she decided she just wasn’t going to pretend anymore. I don’t think I could have been as thoughtful or dignified.
I highly recommend this book. It has its faults, but it was interesting and heartfelt. I did find it somewhat painful to listen to a time when government was run by competent and intelligent individuals, but it was good to be reminded that such a time did exist.