Becoming... and 2018 Reading List

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“I do know myself. My father, Fraser, taught me to work hard, laugh often, and keep my word. My mother, Marian, showed me how to think for myself and to use my voice. Together, in our cramped apartment on the South Side of Chicago, they helped me see the value in our story, in my story, in the larger story of our country. Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.” — Michelle Obama in the first few pages of her recent book Becoming

This is one of my favourite quotes in this book and I must say, one of my favourite books that I read throughout 2018. Michelle illustrates with such honesty many topics I have been thinking about, over the course of this past year, over the course of my lifetime, but more so over the course of the past two months since I have moved back from New York: the complicated history of the United States of America, the different layers of this vast country and its millions of people, the everyday struggles of being a woman, of being a minority, of growing up poor, of the struggle of the in-between, your own culture and community and then the reach for something higher, of how we feel invisible, of how other people try to manifest failure into us, of how we have to work twice, three times as hard, of how important education is, of how kids need advocates and how they need to be invested in.

I was able to relate to many of the passages, especially the ones where she speaks of her family and her childhood. After switching elementary schools, I also came across numerous teachers who wanted me to believe that I wasn’t good enough for higher education. To this day, I do not understand why teachers like those I encountered exist — why would you tell a child that it cannot continue to study? And in 4th grade, it was — similar to Michelle’s story — my mother who advocated for me and signed me up for a better school where I was able to continue.

Then, it was incredibly enlightening and encouraging to read the very different upbringings and career paths of Barack compared to Michelle’s. It was a nice reminder, a confirmation to me even, that ‘Yes, I am enough’ and that ‘Yes, I can live my life my way’ with the breaks and the ‘swerves’ — as she calls them — in between. Some journeys are not meant to be lived linear and followed by a strict to-do list, sometimes and in my case, often times, I like to keep the doors open and to decide on how I feel in the moment. It was inspiring to see how love — in any relationship, the ones with your husband, to your friend, to your daughters — can grow, can change and can bloom, as long as the people involved choose each other, as long as they choose to stay.

Then, it was more than once where I found myself, stopping at a passage, and turning to my laptop, searching for the speech or the incidence she was talking about, and then adding more information to it, learning more about the political climate during her 8 years in the White House and feeling a certain urge inside to be a better citizen. To do more meaningful work. And to keep it up.

If you’re looking to learn more about the many intricacies of life in America, but very much life as a black woman in America, life as an advocate for women’s rights and education and for public health, and then as the first African American First Lady, this is a highly recommended read. I enjoyed it very much and am tempted to reread it again.

“I’m an ordinary person who found herself on an extraordinary journey. In sharing my story, I hope to help create space for other stories and other voices, to widen the pathway for who belongs and why. (…) For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my doors to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of biases and stereotypes that necessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.” — Michelle Obama

In 2017, I found myself picking up many titles but lacking the time and the motivation to finish them. Thus, for the following year, 2018, I set out to finish one book per month, enough time to read and a realistic goal to work towards. In addition, I wanted to support more black and brown women writers, thus I decided to choose my books with intention. As you can see, I made a few exceptions, but if you’re looking for some inspiration what next to read, here is my list:

BOOK LIST 2018

  1. Women, Race, Class by Angela Davis

  2. On Beauty by Zadie Smith

  3. Heart Talk by Cleo Wade

  4. James Baldwin in conversation

  5. All About Love by bell hooks

  6. Barracoon by Zora Neale Hurston

  7. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

  8. The World of Wakanda, Black Panther, Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates

  9. On The Other Side Of Freedom by Deray McKesson

  10. Zami, A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

  11. Becoming by Michelle Obama ✅

  12. Feel Free by Zadie Smith

To each and every book, you can find a small instagram review if you want to read more of what I thought about them and yes, it is correct, I didn’t finish 12 books within 12 months, but only 11. Nevertheless, I am proud of myself that I stuck with the activity and I do have to say, I have found a new love for reading again. I am grateful for all these stories, for all the learnings and that each and every book gave me an insight into a different narrative, a different life—there is power in words and language and the more I read, the more I can see my place in the world.

Zadie Smith’s Feel Free arrived just in time for my flight to Ethiopia tomorrow night and for 2019, I am setting a new goal. 30 books for the next 12 months. I am stoked, and please do keep me accountable :)

P.S.: If you have any recommendations (specifically black and brown writers) do let me know.

Sending much love to all of you and hoping you also find some downtime to expand your mind.

xx

Huyen