I have a hit-and-miss relationship with autobiographies, memoirs, and other nonfiction literature. Mikel Jollett’s memoir, Hollywood Park, was fantastic and gave me insight into the man as well as some of my favourite songs. I was a big fan of Mikel and his band The Airborne Toxic Event before I read the book and an even bigger one after. Amy Schumer’s, The Girl With The Lower Back Tattoo, was terrible. I was a big fan of her standup and general presence before I read the book and she fell completely out of my sphere of “even remotely giving a shit about her” after. I will say that I was a fan of hers on Instagram during her pregnancy, but otherwise, she might as well be invisible.
Kevin Smith’s, Shooting The Shit With Kevin Smith, didn’t do anything for me either way but I also read it at a time when my fanboi feelings for him were waning so we’ll give him the win for not tipping me off the edge and allowing my man-crush to resurface a few years later. Bob McKenzie and James Duthie, two prominent sportscasters here in Canada, each wrote books, Hockey Dad and The Day I (Almost) Killed Two Gretzkys, and I thoroughly enjoyed them both. I got to meet both of them before a Stanley Cup playoff game in Philly back in 2010, so that impression no doubt helped when I read their books (they were both friendly, gracious, and generous with their time).
More recently, I picked up a copy of Tim Cotton’s, The Detective In The Dooryard, a book based on his musings running the marginally famous Bangor Maine Police Department Facebook page. I love his writing on Facebook but found the book to be mundane. Each essay on its own was good, but when I read a bunch of them at once it started to turn into mildly humorous white noise. It might make a good bathroom book.
Michelle Obama’s book, Becoming, surprised the heck out of me. It was fantastic. I knew little about the former First Lady other than what I’d seen in the news between 2007 and 2016 and her book opened my eyes to her struggles and sacrifices – particularly the sacrifices.
After reading Ms. Obama’s account of her life and seeing through the windows she opened into life inside the White House I started reading her husband’s book, Promised Land. I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t heard Michelle speak much before and could “hear” her voice when I read the book but with Barack it was different. I don’t know if it was simply a case of having someone’s voice in my head as I read it or if it was something else, but POTUS’s book stood out as being more self-congratulatory than that of FLOTUS.
It was certainly long enough, clocking in at 700 pages – and doesn’t even cover anything after they got Bin Laden – and while I appreciated the detailed insights on how to get stuff done in Washington, Obama’s writing style played right into the criticisms of his early day debate and Q&A. Sum it the hell up, man. Seriously. Every chapter was this long, meandering journey and despite owing his mistakes and learning, he could have done without patting himself on the back so often.
He did do an excellent job of highlighting the opposition to his agenda and the struggles he and his administration faced but it amounted to little more than preaching to the choir. Anyone so much as considering voting for a Democrat already knew about the obstruction tactics of Mitch McConnell and the GOP.
After reading Obama’s tome, I can see why the people who don’t like him don’t like him. I think they’re wrong in their assessment, but I do have a deeper understanding of why his detractors are so fervent in their dislike of the man. It speaks to what has become an impassable divide between the Left and the Right in modern-day America. I’m less surprised with the 2016 election results now than I was back then.
This brings me to my main observation of the work. At its root, Promised Land is little more than a 700-page “up yours” to Donald Trump. Obama goes to great lengths to point out, on almost every page I might add, all the ways in which he was better than his successor. Better orator, better legislator, better debater, better strategizer, better writer, better human. Again, he wasn’t wrong, but it’s nothing new to anyone who agrees with him, and those who don’t couldn’t care less. Having him spell it out page after page after page only serves to widen the chasm between the two sides.
Was it an informative and at times an entertaining read? Absolutely.
Was it actually written by Barack Obama and not some ghostwriter? For sure (though I can guarantee you the team of editors that worked on it earned every bit of their paychecks).
Will I read Volume 2 when it comes out? Nope.
It’s complicated . . . but no, I don’t read heroes because . . .
I don’t think I have any out-and-out heroes . . . there are people who may have done or said something, and I admire them for it . . . but it’s usually balanced by them doing or saying something that I don’t admire.
Plus, my view of heroes is that they don’t advertise their “heroness”. Too many figures seem to crave recognition for what they deem as a job well-done (which, it rarely is).
So, for instance, I’d admire complete selflessness . . . I don’t know any politician who qualifies, and certainly not the Obamas or anyone currently in office (or in office during my lifetime). Heck, I don’t meet that requirement, and I’m fairly lenient with myself (as is almost everyone).
The problem I have with most autobiographies — and why I stopped reading them — is that they invariably drift into
1) absolving one’s actions while blaming others
2) praising one’s action as extraordinary when in fact it’s the minimum we should expect
There’s other stuff as well, but those are enough of a turn-off to overshadow the other stuff.
Mind you, that’s no different than anyone else . . . but that’s the point; why bother?