Book Review: Becoming Michelle Obama by Michelle Obama

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Even my cat, Pokey Jones, liked this book!

Once upon a time, in land called the south side of Chicago, lived a girl named Michelle Robinson. Instead of living in a huge castle, she lived in a modest house on a street called Euclid Avenue. And instead of having to deal with an evil stepmother, she had two loving parents and a protective older brother. Like a lot of girls, Michelle Robinson dreamed of adventures that would take her beyond her humble roots and finding her own Prince Charming. She did that and so much more, thus becoming the history-making first lady Michelle Obama, not only the first black first lady (not to mention one of the most educated and admired, and if I may dip my toes into the shallow end of the pool, one of the most stylish first ladies, in the history of the United States).

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or are so “unwoke” you might as well be in a coma, you are fully aware of Michelle Obama’s years of living in the White House – her “Let’s Move” campaign to alleviate childhood obesity, her work with second lady Dr. Jill Biden on veterans’ issues, her loving marriage to President Barack Obama, and her challenges of raising two children in the White House under the glare of the media. This is a very compelling part of Becoming, and Mrs. Obama is fully honest about the good, the bad, and the ugly she dealt with during the White House years.

However, most of Becoming focuses on Mrs. Obama’s life before her time as First Lady, and it is both extraordinary and ordinary, which I’m sure a lot of readers with relate to.

Mrs. Obama describes these years in rich detail that had me riveted. Her family was firm and loving, inspiring her to be a striver and excel in whatever she pursued. She writes about teachers who supported her from grade school through law school. She lovingly mentions the girlfriends who inspired her, and are still with her today (even if one standout friend is only with her in spirit). Mrs. Obama discusses the various mentors she was blessed with while navigating the difficulties in the workplace. And she’s brutally honest about these privileges and her gratitude seems truly sincere.

However, she also had to deal with the thorny issues of both racism and sexism, and plenty of naysayers who claimed she’d never make it. For instance, one person tried to convince Mrs. Obama that she wasn’t Ivy League material. Ha, she showed this person, didn’t she?

And yes, Mrs. Obama also dishes on a certain fellow named Barack Obama, from her initial meeting when she was his mentor to her twenty-five plus years of their marriage.

But just as Mrs. Obama is grateful for her blessings, she is also honest about the trials and tribulations she faced personally. Prince Charming was sometimes a bit of a challenge and often their marriage was less than ideal. Mrs. Obama also faced issues with having children, finally reverting to using fertility treatments and later giving birth to her cherished daughters Malia and Sasha. In other words, her life is at turn both typical and atypical, one that inspires and one that a lot of us can relate to.

Now, it’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Michelle Obama. However, as a book reviewer I realize I must be truthful of my assessment of Becoming. Not to be gross, but you can’t crap on a cone and expect me to call it ice cream. Thank goodness, Becoming is a sundae of a read and truly exceeded my expectation. It’s both down to earth and out of this world, one that takes a treasured place on my book shelf. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Book Review: Losing Our Way-An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America by Bob Herbert

losingourway-075I’ve been a long-time fan of Bob Herbert. From 1993 to 2011 he was an opinion columnist for the New York Times, and when he left the paper I was heartbroken.

But lucky for me I read his book Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America and it is the perfect read this election year, very timely and a healing balm for me after reading Donald Trump’s truly loathsome Crippled America.

Losing Our Way is divided into carefully crafted chapters, written in with the wisdom, thoughtfulness and compassion that made me such a fan of Herbert’s to begin with. They include:

  • Falling Apart
  • Falling Apart II
  • Jobs and the Middle Class
  • War and Its Aftermath
  • Understanding the Costs of War
  • Poverty and Inequality
  • The Public Schools
  • Poverty and Public Education
  • War’s Madness Runs Deep
  • Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters
  • Cashing In on Schools
  • Mistreating the Troops
  • Epilogue: Looking Ahead

In Losing Our Way, Herbert goes into great length discussing the various issues that plague our nation and how we got to this point. He does this by writing about four crucial elements that need fixing in our country. They include our falling apart infrastructure, our endless wars and the treatment of our troops and veterans, our education system and how it is not benefiting needs of our children, and how unemployment and under-employment is affecting working people of all kinds. Finally, he offers some ideas and opinions on how we, as a nation, can stop losing our way, and make America work for everyone.

Herbert begins Losing Our Way the crumbling of the I-35W Bridge in Minnesota back in 2007. Several people fell to their deaths, and one victim, Mercedes Gordon was almost one of them. She suffered a broken back and crushed legs, needing a great deal of medical intervention. Not surprisingly, the effects of her injuries plague her to this day. Sadly, the disintegration of the I-35W wasn’t an insolate incident, and expect more to come. Many of our bridges, streets, highways,  power generators, sewer systems and other public facilities were initially built generations ago and need a great deal of repair, but are being neglected instead. Our infrastructure is also threatened by “acts of God,” which Herbert explains in his chapter on Hurricane Sandy and Other Disasters.

The fate of our troops and our returning veterans is also painfully conveyed throughout Losing Our Way. The costs of war aren’t only in huge amounts of money that have gone into fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The costs also include our troops and civilians lost to the violence of war. And then there is the aftermath of serving America in our wars. Many of our war-weary veterans return with horrible injuries requiring continuous medical intervention and physical therapy. And then there are injuries that can’t be seen with the naked eye, most of them mental and emotional. Many of our veterans are dealing with PTSD, depression, and addiction. These stories are also brought to life by Herbert’s interviews with returning soldiers, and they will break your heart.

It’s no secret our public schools are in need of serious overhaul and improvement. However, instead of putting blame on the usual suspects-teachers, teacher unions, disinterested students and uncaring parents-Herbert focuses on some of the issues that plague students and their families like poverty, family strife, violence in the community, and how these conditions need to be attended to before students can work at a top notch level. Many teachers are absolutely treasures, but they are not miracle workers. Furthermore, thanks to concepts like “No Child Left Behind,” teachers are caught up in a web of “teaching to the test” instead of focusing on a student’s individual needs and making the classroom a truly engaging community where students love to learn and thrive.

But one aspect of modern education that truly made me angry while reading Losing Our Way is how big business and business leaders have made themselves “experts” on education and have tried to alter and dismantle the school system not realizing that education isn’t exactly the same as running a business. A couple of these people include Bill Gates and media executive Cathie Black. Bill Gates meant well, but his ideas fell flat. And Cathie Black was in way too over her head; she didn’t last very long and her condescending attitude towards teachers, students and parents were completely out of line and unprofessional.

And when it comes to the place of work and the state of the middle class, Herbert has his finger on the pulse of every American who has earned a paycheck. While working Jacks and Janes are dealing with unemployment and underemployment, stagnating wages, layoffs, outsourcing and other work woes, the 1% are getting huge bailouts, tax breaks and huge salaries that don’t reflect their actual output. Guess what, “trickle down” doesn’t work. Haven’t we learned this lesson by now?

Throughout Losing Our Way Herbert carefully explains how we got to this point, but in the end reminds us that not is all lost. We can, as a nation, find out way. And it relies on those of us in the 99% and goes beyond voting. WE need our voices heard, whether it is protesting, marching in the streets, working on causes that benefit all of us, getting in touch with our representatives and writing opinion pieces on everything from making taxes fairer to those of us who aren’t wealthy to how we treat our returning to veterans to how we can truly improve our schools. Change truly begins at the bottom, not the top. And I believe just by reading Herbert’s wonderfully written and thoroughly researched book, Losing Our Way, we can stir the sleeping giant that resides in all of us.

Losing Our Way is probably one of the most important books I have read this year. Heck, it’s probably one of the most important books I have read in my lifetime!