This cover image released by Crown Publishing Group shows “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama COURTESY PHOTO

Becoming
by Michelle Obama
Crown Publishing
Pages 426 Price $32.50

Humility, maturity, and wisdom came to my mind as I read the new book, “Becoming,” by Michelle Obama. This book explores the many roles Michelle has experienced in her life.It inspires women to think of how many roles they play in life too. As a child Michelle was asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”  She always thought it was a useless question because in growing up people change and roles change. She states that the question implies “As if growing up is finite, as if at some point you become something and that is the end.” She points out she has entered many roles as an adult. For example, Michelle said,  “I have been a lawyer, a Vice President of a Hospital, and a working-class black student in a fancy almost all white college. I have been a bride, a stressed out mother, a daughter torn by grief, and most recently the First Lady of the United States.”

In stating these concepts in the beginning of her book, she is giving us a road map of where she is going and what areas of interest she will cover. The book is well written with amazing candor and dignity. It is organized in three parts: 1.) “Becoming Me,” which deals with her childhood, 2.) “Becoming Us”, which deals with her marriage, struggle to have children, and Barack’s entering politics, and 3.) ”Becoming More,”which deals with being the First Lady of the United States.

Michelle talks of her parents and their influence on her. She states “My father taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother showed me how to think for myself and use my voice.Together they helped me in our apartment on the South Side of Chicago to see the value of our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country, even when it is not pretty or perfect.” She implies everyone has a story of value to tell. She says,”Own  your own story,” as she shares hers with you.

Michelle’s writing is warm and personal. As you read the book you think you are in a room with her and she is talking directly to you. It is amazing how honest and open she is in sharing her personal feelings of her many experiences.

In the first section of the book,”Becoming Me”, Obama discusses her childhood living in an apartment over her aunt’s home and hearing the sound of “Striving.” That sound came from the repetitive pattern of students taking piano lessons on the first floor from her aunt. She discusses experiences in Kindergarten, elementary school, college, working at Sidley and Austin law firm, and meeting Barack. She mentions the difficulty she has had in being the only person of color in a group and how hard it was. Most of all Michelle talks a great deal about her feelings of love for her husband and how impressed she was that he did not talk down to people. She states,”Listening to Barack I began to understand his version of hope reached far beyond mine. It was one thing to get yourself out of a stuck place. It was another thing entirely to get get the place itself unstuck.” Michelle states, “ I was gripped all over again by a sense of how special he was.” What a beautiful comment about her future husband as she watched him organize the community in Chicago before they got married.

The second section of the book “Becoming Us,” covers their marriage and their first years as husband and wife. In this section  Barack becomes interested in running for politics and Michelle struggles to have children and pursues a fertility clinic which helped them have their own children. Having children was a wonderful gift but campaigning presented special stresses.

The third section which is titled “Becoming More,” states “There is no handbook for becoming First Ladies of the United States.” She was in awe of the responsibility of being First Lady  and had to adjust. After thinking about  projects of significance she decided to focus on looking into improving children’s Health and nutrition, seeing that a vegetable garden was planted, participating herself, and honoring the support of wives of the military which she had met during the campaign.

“The Secret Service selected official code names for us in the White House,” she states. Barack was “Renegade.” I was “Renaissance.” Mahlia became “Radience.” Sasha became “Rosebud.” My mother’s code name was “Raindance.”

One of the happiest moments during her husband’s administration was meeting Mandella in Africa.Another awe inspiring experience was visiting Queen Elizabeth in Buckingham Palace. She was impressed at how down to earth the Queen was and how the Queen made her feel at ease.

However, the challenges presented to Obama during his administration were overwhelming. She tried to think positive and not make political statements, although she was very aware of the political arena and always 100 percent behind her husband.

Guarding her children’s privacy was the hardest task for Michelle. She wanted to give them independence but also protection. At the dining room table she and her husband focused on what the children did that day at school not world problems.They did not bring pressures of their jobs into their children’s lives.

Michelle rarely said publicly comments about political issues that came up but was outraged at Trump’s tape on a bus about attracting women which she felt was a put down on all women. She channeled her rage in a speech in Manchester, New Hampshire in which she said, concerning Trumps’s remarks, ”This is not normal. This is not politics as usual. It is intolerable.”

Michelle’s spirit and philosophy of “When they go lower, we go higher,” permeates her thinking and is a reflection of her husband’s philosophy too. The most outstanding theme that I found reading this 416 page book is Michelle’s love for her husband. Anther strong theme is the difficulty she had in growing up as a person of color in America. The struggle to achieve excellence is a third theme, not only for her family, but for her own dignity and self worth. Wonderful personal photographs in the book make it exciting, including the artistic endpapers with family photos. In her position as First Lady in America, Michelle Obama did an outstanding job. She is role model for all women everywhere.

***

Every Breath
by Nicholas Sparks
Pages 306 Price $28.00

Nicholas Sparks’s new fictional novel titled “Every Breath” gives a romantic tale of the union of opposites and takes us from Zimbabwe, South Africa, to Sunset Beach, North Carolina in the spring of 2016. Two people from different worlds meet on the North Carolina beach.

Hope Anderson, who is visiting her family’s cottage for a week with her dog Scottie, is looking for a retreat away from the pressures of our world and is getting ready for a friend’s wedding taking place nearby. As she walks across the sand dunes she sees a mailbox in the middle of the beach way beyond the area she is walking in. The mailbox is known by the locals, as “Kindred Spirit.” People who chose to write notes or letters of remembrance including love letters leave messages in it.The messages stay. They do not get mailed but they can be read by those who know the location or happen to see the mail box.

Walking on the beach also is a solitary figure in the distance of a man whose name is Truit Walls. Tru, which is his nick name, is from Zimbabwe. His family are land owners but he has chosen to be a guide for people taking Safaris in Africa. He is a rugged individualist, a loner and separated from his family.

Tru and Hope meet on the sand when Scottie, Hope’s dog, gets injured. Tru carries it back to safety. A bond between them develops immediately. Hope, once a nurse has been seeing seriously for 7 years an orthopedic surgeon.They never seem to get around to marriage. In fact he chose to go to Las Vegas instead of attending her friend’s wedding with her. So she feels alone. Apathy has become a threat to this relationship.

Hope and Tru have a mad and passionate affair. Yet, Hope decides to marry the orthopedic surgeon. Years later after her children are adults and after a divorce, Hope returns to the North Carolina beach where the mail box titled “Kindred Spirit” is  still there and she finds a letter from Tru from many, many, years ago. In order to find out what happens you will have to read the book. The description of nature is beautiful and the author’s sensitivity about women is amazing. However, the book is a tad melodramatic, on the level of a Hallmark film, but enjoyable.

***

Trajectory
by Richard Russo
Alfred A. Knopf 2017
Pages 243 Price $25.95

Trajectory is a book containing four short stories written by Richard Russo, Pulitzer Prize winner of the novel “Empire Falls,”  written sixteen years ago. This book shows Russo is still a master story teller and remains on the top of his profession: fresh, subtle, and exciting. Many parts of these short stories read like his own experiences exaggerated and expanded into short novellas. For many years Russo taught English in different colleges including Colby College in Waterville, Maine.

In the short story “Horseman” Russo writes about a young professor confronting a student possibly dealing with plagiarism.

In the short story, “Voice,” Russo enters the art world and describes a professor, Nate, meeting his brother,Julien, in Europe in a hotel lobby where they join a tour of Venice and Rome.They have decided to take a Biennale tour. Nate hears a leader of the Biennale tour across the lobby telling a story about the offspring of fifteen century prostitutes who  were conscripted to sing a Mass because of their angelic voices. The voices Nate hears remind him of “The Mauntz girl,” a memory he is trying to escape. To find out more about Nate and Opal Mauntz  you will have to read this interesting but complicated story.

In the short story “Intervention,” Russo describes two brothers and their need for communication as well as the apathetic communication between Ray and Paula, husband and wife. This is an intricate story dealing with love and betrayal and finally with the fear of cancer and how it is accepted. Family dynamics is explored in the story. A struggle financially reflects  the materiality seen in our society today.

The fourth short story is titled “Milton and Marcus.” This incredible story describes the film industry and writing for films. It moves away from the academic scene and shows the casual and haphazard  experiences that can be found in writing for films.

Apparently writing for films is like a roller coaster ride in this fictional story. It describes the changes requested by people in power of a film, who do not have a clue to the original perception of the author’s words. It is a page turner!!!

Russo is a man of many talents. He writes with humor and compassion of human weaknesses and triumphs. His use of dialogue brings you right into every story immediately. He has written 12 books as well as scripts for films titled “Twilight,” “Nobody’s Fool” and a teleplay for “Empire Falls.” He lives with his wife Barbara in Portland, Maine. This is one of his best books.

Pat Davidson Reef is a graduate of Emerson College in Boston. She received her Masters Degree at the University of Southern Maine.She taught English and Art History at Catherine McAuley High for many years.She now teaches at the University of Southern Maine in Portland in the  Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Classic Films. She recently wrote a children’s book,”Dahlov Ipcar Artist, and is now writing another children’s book “Bernard Langlais Revisited.”

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