This is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time . . . and I read a LOT of books.
At first, it reads like a long chat with a girlfriend. No weighty four-syllable words or policy discussions. A friend curled up at the other end of the couch, pausing occasionally to sip from her glass of wine, and sharing stories of growing up in a close-knit family and vibrant but struggling neighborhood, academic and job successes and challenges, the well-trod paths of career discernment, job changes, marriage, miscarriage and infertility, mothering, daughtering, dreams and losses — all conveyed in a relaxed tone of voice, mostly optimistic about possibilities, and occasionally shaken by tough realities.
Eventually, of course, the path begins to take direction and the focus sharpens. A husband with political ambitions, gifts, and speed. One minute Michelle Obama is objecting to a run for the statehouse; the next, she’s negotiating with a Secret Service detail over concerns for her daughters’ safety not compromising their freedom and flexibility as young girls, at least not too much. (She relates with great humor a hilarious scene in which she and high-school aged Malia make a determined dash for a locked door so that they can escape the confines of the White House and celebrate the Supreme Court marriage equality decision outside, enjoyed the rainbow-hued lights playing across the mansion’s façade in at least some proximity to the crowd gathered to celebrate.)
Of course, it doesn’t all happen in an instant and, as often occurs with such books, many more details emerge with respect to the Obamas’ earlier life in politics than regarding the later, presidential years. The first years, from the statehouse to the Senate to Iowa, are marked by resistance, mistakes, naivete’, and a developing political eye on her part, helped along by the growth of a dedicated and brilliant support team. But the latter years are fascinating as well, as Mrs. Obama develops the projects that will mark her tenure as first lady, focusing on children’s eating habits and health, a direct response to challenges in her own family; on military families, as she comes to know a world previously hidden from her view; and on girls’ education, a commitment founded in her conviction that the South Side of Chicago as well as the rest of the country are packed with young people as intelligent and gifted as she and her brother, with young people who lack neither brains nor determination, but need the opportunities and support system that paved the path for a young Michelle.
Her thoughtfulness about her choices, and her light but deft touch as she notes the particular challenges she faced as the first black First Lady and as a mother of youngsters and then teens in a political fishbowl, are likely to illumine the way for anyone seeking to clarify her goals for the next stage of life, whatever it might be. As a 65-year-old white woman trying to sort through what I hope my next ten-to-fifteen years might look like, I find a lot of wisdom in these pages.
And finally — as Michelle Obama reflects on her last day as First Lady and the changes in our country since — well, she brought tears to my eyes. As the good-byes are said peaceful transition of power occurs, she observes that the joyful diversity that marked her husband’s to inaugural celebrations has been replaced by a stolid, white, male “optic,” (a word that’s often been noted by her team in connection with her own efforts), and gives up on trying to smile. And as she looks back at the atmosphere which has enveloped our country, she experiences the heartbreak that many of us share. (On a related note, today’s news includes a report that the Trump administration is rolling back regulations regarding school lunches — legislation on which Michelle Obama quietly worked hard, part of her legacy in promoting healthy lifestyle choices for children.)
I don’t RE-read that many books, but I’m going to start over on this one as soon as I can. Energy, commitment, determination, humor, and grace. I am impressed, moved, and inspired.