Becoming

Rating: 
Author: Michelle Obama
Genres: Memoir, Non-fiction
Pub date: Nov. 2018 (read Jan. 2019 on Audible)
Narrator: Michelle Obama

I admit, I’ve been postponing writing my review on Becoming because I’m at a bit of a loss for what to write. I still don’t really know what I’m going to say, so let’s just go for it and see what comes out (honestly, this is why I like writing reviews because half the time I don’t know how I really feel about a book until I actually sit down and write something about it).

I listened to Becoming as an audiobook – it’s narrated by Michelle so that’s a huge benefit to reading it this way. Like pretty much every other liberal Canadian out there, I love the Obama’s. I’ve always liked Barrack and his policies when he was President, and though I didn’t think too much about Michelle most of the time, I admired her for her attitude. Together I thought they brought something fun and new to the White House and having the Obama’s replaced by the Trump’s has only served to make me miss them more.

I’m not sure what I expected this book to be about. To be honest, I didn’t really know that much about Michelle except that she had nice arms, cared about healthy eating, and always radiated positive thinking in her speeches. I guess I thought this would mostly be about her time as first lady, but it was actually a pretty substantial look at her entire life. It’s broken into three parts; the first part focuses on her childhood and education, the second part on her relationship with Barrack, and the last part on her time as First Lady. Barrack obviously features heavily in the memoir, especially since she essentially had to give up her own career to accommodate his dreams when he became president, but it is really still just about Michelle.

Michelle grew up in Chicago and her memoir takes us through her early years growing up on the south side. Her family wasn’t wealthy, but they weren’t poor either, mostly they were just a family that stuck to their guns. Michelle and her brother were both very smart and are both Princeton graduates. She graduated with a law degree and worked as a lawyer for many years, trying many different things. She worked for a big law firm, which is where she met Barrack, but found this high paced life wasn’t for her, which inspired her to seek out more meaningful work. She is a very successful individual in her own right.

What I liked most about her memoir was how personal it was. She shares her struggles being the wife of a senator and how hard she had to work to maintain her own career and family life. Both her and Barrack had big dreams for their futures and she struggled with the traditional roles that were expected of her as a mother. She always wanted to support Barrack, but it was hard on her and the family when he had so many commitments all over the country. Honestly, I was kind of annoyed for her. Most of the domestic responsibilities fell to her over the years and she’s honest about how difficult it felt to manage that. She says multiple times that she never really wanted Barrack to be in politics.

As a couple, Barrack and Michelle are pretty inspiring themselves. They’re both very ambitious people, but they were able to make it work. Michelle was able to stay out of politics when Barrack was a senator, but when he ran for President, she was essentially forced to give up her job to support him. I think I personally would have really struggled with that if I was in her shoes. I would hate to have to set my own ambitions aside, especially as a woman who hates fitting into traditional gender roles. But people have to make sacrifices in relationships all the time and sometimes you will have to prioritize one career over the other if you want to make your relationship work. So I really admired Michelle for deciding what concessions she was willing to make and for the compromises they made in other areas. As First Lady she had a huge platform from which to work and I think all of her experience in the workforce and as a lawyer really worked to her advantage.

I did struggle with this book at times. I never found it boring and I was always into it while listening to it, but you already know how the story ends, so sometimes I did tune out a little bit. Even though I think Michelle is really honest in this memoir, something about it still felt a little sanitized to me. I think that’s to be expected from someone who had to constantly censor themselves at all times lest she say something that could be construed in a poor light or misinterpreted. It’s too bad, because I think the Obama’s are probably one of the most down to earth couples that have ever been in the White House, but because they are black they are held to a much higher standard and there’s really no room for them to make mistakes or be messy. Being messy is what makes people real, but that privilege will never be conferred on a couple like the Obama’s. Trump can say all the dumb shit he wants (and does) and his supporters will still look the other way. Michelle had to be a role model in every aspect of her life and she did it really well.

Overall I think she offers up a lot of herself in this book. I also think it’s a bit of a chance for her to tell her side of the story- to clear the air on the ways she was misunderstood or misquoted on the campaign trail and during her time as First Lady. Without Barrack, Michelle is still an inspiring individual and it was really interesting to learn about her roots. I have tickets to hear her speak in March and I’m excited to hear what else she has to say!

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Scrappy Little Nobody

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rating: 
Author: Anna Kendrick
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Humour
Read: Nov. 2017

Wow, this was much better than anticipated!

I’m not really an Anna Kendrick fan, with the exception of Pitch Perfect, but Scrappy Little Nobody was surprisingly well written and actually really interesting. Kendrick spends a few chapters on her childhood to let us know she really does come from a normal family and then she jumps into how she got into acting and what it was like adjusting to fame and Hollywood.

I found her beginnings really interesting; I had no idea she started off on Broadway at the age of 12, but I guess that helps to explain why she’s been featured in so many singing roles. She talked about her first experience on a film set when she did Camp at 14 and how surreal it was when the film featured at Sundance. She was disappointed when she told her class she was going to Sundance and they didn’t seem to care, until she later discovered they just didn’t realize she meant THE Sundance because they couldn’t picture tiny little Anna occupying the same festival as mega stars like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

She moved to LA straight out of high school and landed the role of Jessica on Twilight. I got a kick out of listening to her talk about Twilight and how awesome it was to get a minor role like Jessica because you got to be in the film and hang out with the stars for a few weeks each film, without any of the crazy fan notoriety, because really, who cares about Jessica anyways. But the money from Twilight kept her afloat financially for two years because even after landing a role in arguably one of the largest teen franchises (AFTER HP YOU GUYS), she still lived with two guys in a crappy apartment.

The first time I remember knowing who Kendrick was with Up in the Air. I didn’t really care for it; I remember trying to read the book and then abandoning it, not liking the movie, and promptly forgetting about it. But this was really her first major role and she was nominated for an Oscar for it! I found it fascinating though because she still never really made any money until after this movie because it was never anticipated to do so well. So even when she attended the Oscars for the first time as a nominee, she was still pretty much broke and had to be forced by her stylist to buy a $1000 pair of Louboutin shoes because evidently these things matter. I enjoyed her commentary on how ridiculous it is that when you’re starting out that you have to spend money you don’t have on purchases like this, but once you legit become famous and can afford it, designers give you their stuff for free.

Kendrick had a lot of meaningful insight into Hollywood and I like that she never takes herself too seriously. I felt this was a very honest memoir and I really did feel that she wasn’t so different to me. Even though she obviously is, she now feels like a real, down-to-earth person versus just another famous person living in a fantasy world with no clue how the rest of us live.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Roxane Gay
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: May 2017

 

I read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist a few years ago and really enjoyed her essays, but I definitely think this a stronger book and one that takes a lot of courage to write.

“The Story of my body is not a story of triumph… Mine is not a success story. Mine is, simply, a true story.”

This is one of the opening passages in Hunger and why I think Gay is such a brave writer. Her memoir is ultimately about her being gang-raped at the age of 12 and how that has since changed and shaped her entire life. Gay never told anyone about her rape and kept her fear and shame bottled up for most of her life, turning to food as a comfort. Making herself big as a way to feel safe within her body.

This is a truly heartbreaking story because Gay still suffers PTSD along with the added challenges of moving around in a world that is not built for people her size, much less black women of her size. She offers many anecdotes on what it’s like to live in a world where you’re medically classified under the horrible term of “super morbidly obese” (seriously, who decided this was okay?).

I’ve been trying to educate myself on intersectional feminism and Gay’s memoir was helpful in recognizing the ways I benefit from thin privilege. There are many obvious ways in which I benefit from thin privilege, but Gay’s memoir highlighted other ways such as the constant worries she faces about fitting in chairs and whether or not she’ll be able to easily access the stage at events she speaks at. She tells one story of a time she spoke at an event that had a stage about 2 feet off the ground with no stairs and how mortifying it was as she struggled to get onstage and then proceeded to have to crouch over her chair for 2 hours because she felt a small crack when she first started to sit.

One of the most helpful articles for me in understanding white privilege was Peggy MacIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack as well an imitation essay, The Male Privilege Checklist. This essay ends with the ultimate check of male privilege being that “I have the privilege of being unaware of my male privilege.” I was reminded of this while reading Gay’s memoir because it helped me realize some of the ways in which I am unaware of my thin privilege (as well as reinforcing some of the ways I was aware of).

Gay’s honesty is part of what makes this such a strong memoir, but I also really appreciated her insights into what it means to be a woman in our society. How we treat the thousands of girls and women who have been emotionally, physically, or sexually abused – how we treat black, fat, disabled, poor, or gay girls and women – and how that affects our body image, self-confidence, and the way we grow up and who we develop into.

Like I said, this is a heartbreaking story, but also a very important one.

“He said/she said is why so many victims don’t come forward. All too often, what “he said” matters more, so we just swallow the truth. We swallow it, and more often than not, that truth turns rancid. It spreads through the body like an infection. It becomes depression or addiction or obsession or some other physical manifestation of the silence of what she would have said, needed to say, couldn’t say.”

What Happened


Rating:
 ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
Author: Hillary Clinton
Genres: Memoir, Non-Fiction, Feminist
Read: Sept. 2017 on audiobook

 

Last year I attended a panel discussion featuring female leaders in STEM and one of the women said something which has been particularly memorable for me. She spoke about how being the first woman to do something means nothing if you don’t pave the way for those behind you.

Hillary talks a lot in this book about being the first female presidential nominee. After a while I kind of just wanted to roll my eyes, but you know what, women are never allowed to celebrate their accomplishments. We’re told to be humble, not to brag, and we’re perceived as vain if we talk too much about ourselves. Hillary has had many, many accomplishments and she should be able to talk about and celebrate those successes, especially in the aftermath of such a devastating loss.

Hillary was the first. But please God don’t let her be the last. I’m not even American and I was totally devastated when she lost. It was heartbreaking to watch America tear down the first candidate to ever look like me. It was terrifying that nearly half of Americans (Hillary still won the popular vote, yo) would rather have a man who incites violence and hatred as their president than a *gasp* woman!

“But her emails” – I can’t even really talk about the emails because they really are just a stupid excuse for people to hide their misogyny behind and Hillary is right when she talks about how her emails were given way too much media attention in the election. If you think her emails are worse than any of the million offensive things Trump said and did, then you need to check your privilege and priorities.

So yes, Hillary was first, and as upsetting as it was to see her lose, I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. She went into more detail than I cared to know on parts of her journey and parts of the book got repetitive towards the end, but I really enjoyed hearing about all the people she met throughout her campaign and how she worked with those people to draft her policies. I was particularly moved by the group of mothers that she met with to draft her policies on gun violence. She met with the mothers of black men, women, and children that have been killed by law enforcement, such as Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin. These women formed their own coalition and campaigned with her on the road as she took on the NRA.

I was so inspired by some of the people Hillary met and worked with and I just kept thinking how awesome women are and I appreciated Hillary for shining a light on all these amazing individuals. I love that woman are taking all the insults Trump throws at them and using them as tools for empowerment. Call Hillary a nasty woman? Fine, we’ll turn it into a meaningful awareness campaign. Enact a gag order on organizations that provide abortions and try to take away our reproductive freedoms? We’ll march in the damn street.

I loved the parts of this book that Hillary devoted to talking about what it means to be a woman in politics. How she struggled to communicate in a way that wasn’t considered “offensive” for a woman. I struggle with this myself. I am passionate about equality and a lot of things make me frustrated and angry. It’s hard not to talk about them without becoming animated. When women get impassioned about things society calls them “angry” or “shrill” – whereas men are “passionate” or “charismatic”. I knew that Hillary had to act a certain way in front of the cameras. It’s so obvious at the debates that she’s putting in an effort to always be smiling and keep her voice even and soft. But it’s so damn frustrating that women can’t speak out in the way that they want because they run the risk of being labelled an “angry woman” and therefore someone who can be dismissed.

I was fascinated when she talked about her rallies and how high the energy of her crowds would be. She wanted to go out there and match the energy of the crowd, to be loud and passionate, as any man would be (seriously, think of any moving speech given by a man, they’re always loud and expressive). But she couldn’t because that’s not what people expect from a woman. Women should be able to express their passion in the same way that men do. Women should be able to show outrage without being labelled “angry”. Hillary had to work so much harder than any male nominee because she had to be so critical of every tiny thing she did and said lest she be perceived as too masculine or too feminine.

I’ve read a lot of criticism that Hillary blames Bernie for her losses in this book, but I did not find this to be the case. She mentions Bernie a few times and there is 1 or 2 (of 97!) chapters that focus on her experience running against Bernie. Of course she’s going to talk about Bernie, he was a huge part of her experience and of course she’s going to have some criticism, they ran against each other and on different platforms. Of course she feels differently than Bernie. But I don’t think it’s fair to say she blamed Bernie. She is very critical of herself in parts of this book and repeatedly blames herself for her loss and for the all the women she feels she let down as a result. She talks about the mistakes she made and the things she wishes she’d done differently.

I also loved that she talked about her policies. She is right when she talks about how little media attention her political agenda actually got during the election. Everything was focused on her emails or whatever new offensive thing Donald Trump had done most recently. I liked when she talked about fairness in reporting. In journalism you often want to remain unbiased and present both sides of the story, but this does not work when one of your candidates makes a mistake about how she sends and stores her emails and the other candidate is a sexist, racist, xenophobic menace who can’t complete a single sentence without insulting at least 3 minorities (or who honestly just can’t complete a sentence, period).

You can’t talk about Hillary’s emails in every single newscast and treat them like they have the same gravity as all of Trumps transgressions just to keep things equal. It is unfair and irresponsible. It was like Trump could do no wrong because no matter how many insulting things he said and lies he made up, the media always compared it to one of Hillary’s mistakes (ie, emails emails emails). And the media let Trump dominate the news – no matter how much he shocked you, he was bound to surprise you again. The candidates platforms were rarely covered, which is a real shame because Hillary spent an incredible amount of time hosting round tables and listening to people in order to develop her policies. I loved that this book actually gave the chance to hear Hillary talk about her policies, even if we won’t see them come to fruition. It’s too bad they got overshadowed by the rat race of the election.

So what next? Hillary was first, but I do think she has tried to pave the way for those behind her. It was a brutal and devastating defeat, but she is still optimistic about the future, so I will try to be too. It would appear that this book can only be rated 1 or 5 stars on goodreads, so 5 stars from me because Hillary Clinton is a boss lady and she still inspires me.

“never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”