Becoming (Michelle Obama)

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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, dramatically changing the ways that families pursue healthier and more active lives, and 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.

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I listened to the audiobook, which is read by Michelle Obama herself.

I have always been a fan of Michelle and Barack and family. I liked that they appeared to stand above many political pundits, as evidenced by Michelle’s “when they go low, we go high” slogan. I was also a fan of her political and social movements, championing health and fitness for children.

Listening to this book made me feel closer to her. That is a weird idea, considering that we have never met, but I felt like I gained a much deeper understanding of her as an individual – not just FLOTUS – and appreciated what I learned. She comes across as more of the high-achieving girl next door, rather than as the “elite” I always pictured her as.

She is relateable.

She is the epitome of the American Dream.

I am a Canadian citizen. I agreed with a lot of the policies and values that were championed by the Obamas but I think I was granted some emotional distance from the political drama that always seems to unfold in the USA, by nature of my geographical distance. I remember thinking about the insane and unrealistic expectations everyone seemed to have of Barack Obama when he was first elected. He was optimistic and a talented politician, but he was still just one man who was forced to work within the same political machine as each of his predecessors and successors.

Becoming obviously tells Michelle’s personal history, as well as chronicling many of the key points in her journey through the White House. It is very informative. It also put certain things into perspective.

I am white. Michelle is black. I am Canadian. She is American. I grew up in a small town, she grew up in the inner city of Chicago. We are a lot alike though.

History that seems to have occurred so long ago – like Jim Crow laws – isn’t so long ago when you think of them in terms of generations. To have grown up knowing people who were oppressed by those laws. To know that their grandparents – your great great grandparents – were slaves…. that is a heady realization. It makes you realize that those periods of history weren’t so long ago after all. I have greater awareness for the lingering affects of this history today.

As I mentioned, I was easily able to relate to Michelle at times. I never would have imagined that she was burned out by school. That she trained to get a prestigious degree in a career that she quickly discovered she had no love for. To feel burdened down by school debt, expectations, and difficulty conceiving. I was extremely emotional listening to her talk about her Dad’s death. And incredibly impressed over her career trajectory, and professional self-confidence.

One thing I learned about her husband is that President Obama always had to have something to attain and reach for. I couldn’t help but wonder, when you have held the highest office in the country for 8 years, what else is left to do afterwards?

On a more technical note, I did find that the recording of the book dragged. The narrative itself was great, but I sped up the playback to 1.5x, very unusual for me. Most of the word count is devoted to Michelle aged 5-30, with less than I expected devoted to the Obama Family’s time in the White House.

I particularly loved the stories related to her experiences with Queen E.

One lingering question I still have, silly though it may be, is how much freedom does the first family have to redecorate the private residence? Like, did Sasha have a pretty pink bedroom when they first moved in and she was still a young girl? If I ever had a chance to meet Mrs Obama, that would definitely be a question I asked!

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Amy Schumer’s The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo

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The Emmy Award-winning comedian, actress, writer, and star of Inside Amy Schumer and the acclaimed film Trainwreck has taken the entertainment world by storm with her winning blend of smart, satirical humor. Now, Amy Schumer has written a refreshingly candid and uproariously funny collection of (extremely) personal and observational essays.

In The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo, Amy mines her past for stories about her teenage years, her family, relationships, and sex and shares the experiences that have shaped who she is – a woman with the courage to bare her soul to stand up for what she believes in, all while making us laugh.

Ranging from the raucous to the romantic, the heartfelt to the harrowing, this highly entertaining and universally appealing collection is the literary equivalent of a night out with your best friends – an unforgettable and fun adventure that you wish could last forever. Whether she’s experiencing lust-at-first-sight while in the airport security line, sharing her own views on love and marriage, admitting to being an introvert, or discovering her cross-fit instructor’s secret bad habit, Amy Schumer proves to be a bighearted, brave, and thoughtful storyteller that will leave you nodding your head in recognition, laughing out loud, and sobbing uncontrollably – but only because it’s over.

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Normally I don’t go for books like this – memoirs and anecdotal stories – but Amy Schumer’s book came highly recommended from a friend. She listened to the audiobook, which is read by Amy herself, and was laughing her head off beside me at work. Humour is communicated so much more honestly via conversation than as words on a page, so with books like this, I really feel that the only way to take it in is via an audiobook. Something funny sounded great after the emotional story ( The Light Between Oceans ) that I listened to last, and the decision-making process stopped there!

The girl with the lower back tattoo is at turns witty, insightful, educational and of course, laugh out loud funny. I wasn’t too sure what the book would be about. It’s about Amy and her life of course, but she clearly states at the beginning that this is not her autobiography because she has decades of life still to live. The woman is only in her 30s after all. I think that in the end it is a collection of stories about Amy but I agree that I wouldn’t call it an autobiography. The timeline jumps around, but you get a sense of her childhood and upbringing, her early years struggling to become a comedian who actually gets paid for her stand-up, and where she is today after the global success of Trainwreck.

My friend was correct in pointing out that this was one of those rare books that is actually funny. I work as a librarian and humourous books are the hardest type to help a person find because – in my opinion – humour doesn’t translate as well on page as it does in conversation. So, unsurprisingly, Schumer’s stories were less funny than I expected and more along the lines of heartfelt stories and sarcastic asides. That isn’t to say that this book isn’t funny though, it is and I particularly liked the story of her lower back tattoo. But you get to see who the real person is behind the pen and this was charming.

I didn’t not know very much about Amy before I started this book. I knew she was a comic, and she was that girl in Trainwreck. But I didn’t know that she had written the movie. I didn’t know that she was a successful comic before the movie was ever filmed, or that she had written for magazines.  I certainly did not know about her undying love affair for the island of Manhattan.

Some of the topics that Amy discusses throughout this novel are her very uncharitable reasons for volunteering at a camp for disabled children and adults one summer as a preteen, balancing a type one introvert personality with a career that demands you give everything to everyone. She also discusses how the future and ideology of an entire gender of our species been placed on her by journalists with questions such as how do you think the success of your movie shape the future of Hollywood for other women. As she points out “Um, hello?! I am just one woman. Not all women”. And women’s place in Hollywood won’t change until people stop asking questions like this.

Two of the most difficult portions to listen to are the ones surrounding her father’s MS and the two women who were shot and killed at a showing of her movie in Lafayette. When something like that happens I’ve always thought of course the actors and directors and producers, anyone associated with creating the attraction, must feel terrible to be attached to the tragedy, even though they are in no way responsible for it. But to hear how difficult it was for Amy, in the following weeks, her genuine desire to reach out to those families, and the fact that she carries the pictures of the two women who were killed makes her much more human. I also never knew that she was so involved in efforts across the United States to create legislation that would prevent mentally ill people with criminal records from accessing firearms.

The girl with the lower back tattoo is not a typical biography. It is funny and heartwarming and at times brought a couple tears to my eyes. It definitely challenged my preconceptions of who this woman was and is and I have a lot more respect for her now. I can also relate to Amy on a personal level. I definitely recommend this book, specifically the audiobook, because humour is just communicated so much more freely through this medium.

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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

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Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

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Well I finally finished reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood.  I had read part of it years ago as a pre-teen, when I was lured in by this evocative cover, but it was too heavy and intellectual for me at the time.

I was motivated to read it again now because of the tv show airing on Bravo. Once again, it was the visuals – in this case the trailer – that drew me in, but book nerd that I am, I had to read the book first. I read it in two sessions, but those sessions were a couple of months apart.

I loved the premise behind this story, the post-apocalyptic world that Atwood imagines, and its beginnings eerily reflect some of the current news circling the world.

Unfortunately, I didn’t love her writing style. And I really detested the end of the book. This story was largely character-based, but it is the plot that drew me in. In effect, essentially nothing happens throughout most of the story, and the ending felt like a huge cliffhanger. I felt as if I should only be halfway through the book when in actuality I was finished.

If you are a reader who likes to delve into the nuances of a character and reader the minute internal emotional journey they undergo, this is probably a great book for you. If you are more of a plot-based fan who wants things to move along at a faster clip, try the show instead. I am loving it much more.

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