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Books loved by Michelle Obama

In the run up to publication of her autobiography, Becoming (published 13 November), Michelle Obama has been speaking to the American Library Association about her and her family’s love of books.

We’ve partnered with the UK publishers of some of the favourites mentioned in her speech to give readers the chance to win bundles of the books. There is also an exciting competition to win a signed copy of Becoming – read on to find out more.

“We are readers, the Obamas…I love stories. I love to escape for a moment. I needed that escape over the past ten years. I needed to get out of my own story and get into someone else’s story for a minute.”
Michelle Obama speaking at the American Library Association Conference in June 2018

The books

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – Pan Macmillan

Michelle Obama is not alone in her appreciation for this book: Isabel Allende, bestselling author of The House of the Spirits has also raved: ‘I loved The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah, a talented writer of American stories; great characters, great plots, great emotions, who could ask for more in a novel?’

The book’s UK editor Trisha Jackson, Publishing Director at Pan Macmillan says:
‘Well The Nightingale is a book that I fell in love with almost from the moment I started reading it. It’s a story about two sisters who show enormous courage each in their own way. It’s also a story of what it’s like to be a woman during the war when women’s stories are often forgotten or overlooked. To learn that Michelle Obama, one of the most iconic, inspirational, accomplished and engaging women of our times, also loves this book is testament to its quality. The Nightingale is a novel for everyone, a novel for a lifetime. Kristin Hannah is a wonderful writer.’

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett – Bloomsbury

Michelle Obama has also read and enjoyed Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth, which has a host of other high profile fans. Jojo Moyes says of the book ‘she blends wisdom and humanity jointly with the icy forensic gaze of someone not afraid to expose the frailties of human behaviour…Read it.’ And Roddy Doyle has described it as ‘hugely entertaining and an unsettling joy to read.’

Alexandra Pringle, Publishing Director of Bloomsbury, explains its appeal:
‘"The christening party took a turn when Albert Cousins arrived with gin." How can you resist a book which starts like that? As first lines go, it’s as sharp and zesty as the gin and orange that will soon percolate its way through the party and facilitate the fatal kiss between Bert Cousins and Beverly Keating – a kiss that will dissolve their two marriages, and bring their two families crashing together.

Ann Patchett’s Commonwealth is a masterpiece, but unlike most masterpieces it’s wise, human and funny as well as dazzlingly discerning and forensic. It’s a book that will get into your DNA, that you’ll think and smile about at least once a week for the rest of your life.’

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – Harper Collins

‘I love all of her stuff.’

Michelle Obama shares a love of Chimamanda with her husband, and her friend Beyonce, who famously sampled the Nigerian author’s We Should All Be Feminists essay in her track Flawless. We recommend you start with Americanah, which was shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction and of which the Guardian said: ‘Some novels tell a great story and others make you change the way you look at the world. Americanah does both.’

The book tells the moving story of two Nigerian teenagers, forced by military dictatorship to leave their country and make their separate ways in the West. Fearless, gripping, spanning three continents and numerous lives, this is a richly told story of love and expectation set in today’s globalised world.

White Teeth by Zadie Smith – Penguin

‘I love a good story that takes me outside of myself. I love everything that Zadie Smith has done…I love her story telling, her characters… White Teeth was just so good.’
Michelle Obama speaking at the ALA Conference in June 2018.

London-born Zadie Smith was a guest of the White House while President Obama was in office, and his wife is also a fan. In her talk for the ALA, Michelle described the opportunities for black working class women to tell their stories in literature as ‘interestingly rare’. She went on to express her hope that by telling her own story: ‘it makes others, not just black women, not just black people, but other people, other women, people who feel faceless and invisible and voiceless to feel pride in their story in the way that I feel about mine.’

White Teeth was the first publishing sensation of the new millennium when it hit the shelves in 2000, and the funny, generous, big-hearted novel was adored by critics and readers alike. Dealing with – among many other things – friendship, love, war, three cultures and three families over three generations, it is a riotous must-read of a book.

Amelia Fairney, Communications Director at Penguin, Zadie’s UK publisher commented: ‘Zadie Smith has a gift for telling the stories of people who are often overlooked in society so it is no surprise to hear that Michelle Obama is a fan of this most life-affirming of contemporary writers.’

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – Penguin

‘I just finished reading Exit West which was very good, very powerful.’
Michelle Obama speaking at the ALA Conference in June 2018.

President Obama evidently passed his copy of the Man Booker shortlisted Exit West onto his wife as he recommended it on Facebook as one of his favourite books of 2017.

Penguin’s Amelia Fairney says: ‘The Obamas’ taste in fiction is spot-on. In Exit West, Mohsin Hamid has written a radical parable about exile and migration which shows us not just the destructive power of war and political division, but how the strength of humans’ love for one another can offer the promise of a better world.’

The novel tells the story of Nadia and Saeed, two young people who fall in love in a city swollen by refugees. Forced from their homeland, running for their lives, searching for their place in the world, will their love endure the unimaginable? Exit West is a novel to restore your faith in humanity and in the power of imagination.

Get involved

We have a very exciting competition for you to win a signed copy of Becoming. Simply leave a review on our site for one of the books loved by Michelle Obama, and then let us know by tweeting or emailing a link to your review. One lucky reader will be chosen as the winner!

Want to discover the children’s books loved by Michelle Obama? Take a look here.

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