Hi, everyone. My name is Katie, and each week I’m going to give you my totally unbiased perspective of a book I didn’t read based on an interview I had with a Friends of the Library volunteer or friend. Although the books discussed are very real and definitely read by my interviewees, they are most certainly not read by me.
For this interview, I spoke to a friend named Ron.* This was actually my second interview with Ron, and upon us sitting down, I immediately sensed a reduced sense of fear and anxiety around enduring said interview with me. Ron claimed this was just that he had more to say about the book. I nodded and said, “ok, Ron.”
(Sentences and words in bold type are my own commentary. I hope you find it as amusing and disruptive as it was intended to be.)
*name was changed in order to salvage employee’s dignity
The name of this week’s book is “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
Me: So what book are we discussing today?
Ron: No–that’s the name of the book; I–
Me: I know. It was a joke.
Ron: Are we recording?
Ron: Anyway, it’s about how [Michelle Obama] becomes various people as she grows. She starts out as a child, and then she becomes a, you know, teenager, a young adult, a professional...then she gets married [and] becomes First Lady. It’s a series of milestones in her life where she becomes another iteration of herself.
Me: And this is an autobiography?
Ron: Must be. Yes.
Me: Where does the book start out?
Ron: We start at her childhood with her brother, Craig, and her parents–in Chicago.
Me: Did she have a good upbringing?
Ron: Yes she did; very much. Her parents focused on education and sacrificed a lot. Her father worked at the water plant, and I think her mom stayed at home to raise them. Her [mom’s] main focus was her children and their values.
Me: And did young Michelle have a good idea of herself from a young age, or did you get the impression this was something that was shaped either through hardship or mentors– something like that?
Ron: She found herself primarily through her mother’s influence. [Her mother] was a great woman who wanted to let [the kids] be independent–not tell them what to do–but to guide them and make sure they had good values and the best opportunities they could afford.
Me: Incredible. So what happened next? How did we get from child Michelle to First Lady Michelle?
Ron: Well [another influence she had] early on was her aunt who lived below them, and she was her piano teacher (I really should fact-check this, as the interviewee was unsure if this was her aunt or landlord, but even the thought of doing so has left me...not wanting to.) And she was very structured and rigid and demanded excellence from Michelle...who didn’t like it then.
Me: But now…
Ron: But later on she realized what a gift she had given her. So at a young age Michelle found out she was very organized, focused, and good at checking off all the boxes. She did well in school, felt self-confident.
Me: This sounds like the Michelle we know.
Ron: Anyway–to jump forward...Michelle went through school, and–
Me: Well, wait. Did Michelle always know she wanted to be a lawyer (I always wonder if people...really...want to be lawyers)?
Ron: I think it was more of a process of elimination after she [decided against] medicine, engineering, the arts.
Ron: So she became a lawyer and was offered a job at a very good law firm where, after she had been there for about a year–
I sneezed. Talking about lawyers makes me sneeze.
Ron: After she had been there about a year…(he paused to make sure I wasn’t going to sneeze “at” him again) she was set to mentor [candidates] who were interested in working at her firm.
Me: Which is important because…
Ron: Barack Obama was such a person.
Ok...so I’m glad she became a lawyer.
Ron: He was older and yet not as advanced in the law...because he had taken out time to become a community organizer…
Me: Right, right, right. He seems like a little bit of a hippy. I hear he had a fro…
Am I allowed to perpetuate rumors? I think this is actually true??
Ron: Absolutely. The opposite of her–not a structured guy, a free thinker. He was really cool, and people saw how talented he was, and after meeting him a few times, Michelle [started to recognize] that this guy was special. And that’s when he very carefully nurtured [their] relationship until they finally went out on a date.
Me: Beautiful. So how does Michelle get from corporate law and love to whatever’s next?
Ron: At that point, Michelle wasn’t finding herself exactly fulfilled...being a corporate attorney. Around that time, though, she started to meet some key people, including Valerie Jarrett (who would become Michelle’s husband’s senior advisor in the White House). And Valerie somehow [got her a job] where she was paid much less, but where she would be fulfilled and working to help young people.
Me: That’s how it (exploring one’s passions) works!
No laughter from the peanut gallery.
Ron: So Michelle and Barack seem to be getting closer and closer…
Me: Falling in loooove.
Ron: I think they got married at that point, and soon after, Barack became elected to the Senate and was away a lot–and Michelle didn’t like that. And then they had children, so [it was becoming more difficult].
Me: I can imagine.
Ron: But now Barack was being recognized in the Senate as big talent, and then he gave the keynote speech at the Democratic Convention for...I think it was Clinton (it was Bush)..then everything busted loose–they saw that this guy was special.
Me: Oh....man. But back to Michelle!! Focus!
We got a little derailed.
Me: So what was Michelle’s role throughout her husband’s presidency? I wonder if this was difficult for her...how she could have possibly felt fulfilled.
Ron: Well, she had to look at what first ladies could do. At one point, she, somehow, recognized that children’s diets were awful, so she decided, with the help of some experts in Chicago, to plant a garden for and with the help of children. And they saw it grow and grow and grow.
Me: Ah, yes–the school lunches program. I remember the scary looking square pizza and tater tots of my day...yum…(It was absolutely not yum–it was a travesty–but I wouldn’t know that because my mommy lovingly packed my lunches every single day.).
Ron: Then she became involved in influencing big corporations and politicians regarding school lunches, and she made a huge impact on all of that.
Me: It was like prison food.
Ron: It was awful...high in fat, sugar, and salt.
Me: So she was very big with the youths…
Ron: Very big with young people. She also had to be very careful about not doing anything controversial because she was under a microscope...constantly. Whether she wore bangs or not bangs, what kind of dress she wore, whatever, and she was constantly attacked and had to learn to deal with all that.
Me: And of course the racial component.
Ron: And she had to deal with that. A lot of people were very unhappy to see someone who looked like her in the White House [making an impact]. But she did the best she could to insulate herself and her kids, which were her most important project.
Me: And how did Sasha and Malia do in the White House? They had Michelle as a mother, so I can only imagine she did an incredible job of shielding them from the noise and nurturing them in a grounded way.
Ron: Michelle’s mom also lived with them, and she she played an enormous role in keeping everbody grounded and helping with the kids.
Me: It’s a lot for anyone.
Ron: And by the end of the second term Michelle could not wait to get out from under the microscope and [away from the restrictions]. They couldn’t even go to a restaurant without it interfering with everyone else’s lives.
So no fried calamari??
Ok, fine–it’s a serious matter, this privacy thing...but still no calamari.
Me: Right. Ok, so then they left the White House and...what did she do? What was the plan?
Ron: Well, there was the book-writing. And I don’t remember too many specifics other than that. And her husband wrote a book. They did very well with that.
Me: I know the Obamas bought a vacation home. Seems like they’re enjoying their lives a little.
Ron: They’re enjoying their lives. The book did cover [Sasha and Malia] going to school and Michelle and her husband going to as many school events as possible. It’s a good family...a good book.
Me: Great. If you had to describe Michelle Obama in a few words, what words would they be?
Ron: Very intelligent. Good values. Good mother. Good wife.
Me: Lots of use of the word “good.”
Ron: Yeah, well...I’d say “excellent.”
Ron: She really is an outstanding individual. And at times she has been the most popular woman in the country, and people have suggested she should run for president...but she wants nothing to do with it.
Me: Oy. I can imagine.
Ron: But I think the fact that there are now more women in law, medicine, in Congress in general...is great. They approach things from a different perspective than we’ve had.
Me: Love it. Well, this interview has gone on far longer than I intended…
Ron: So I don’t get to say any wisecracks?
Me: Just one.
Me: Words of advice to Michelle Obama...from you? You’re no one. Give Michelle Obama advice.
Ron said something controversial I couldn’t post here.
Me: Something less controversial please.
Ron: Uhhh...send help.
Me: And scene.