When Michelle Obama strides on stage Wednesday night to the cheers of a packed Xcel Energy Center, the members of the Michelle Obama book club will be there, too, hopping up and down in Section C, Row 4, screaming like mad.
They might be wearing their Michelle Obama tennis shoes.
The book club was formed late last fall for its six members to read one book, and one book only — Obama’s bestselling memoir, “Becoming.” After her event at the Xcel — a book event, yes, but one with spotlights and rock music and groupies — the club will likely disband. (But the friendships, of course, will endure.)
“We stopped life to read this one,” said Sheletta Brundidge, who lives in Cottage Grove. “We stopped everything we were doing to read this one.”
The book club members — four women in the Twin Cities area, one in Florida and one in Texas — are usually too busy to read a lot of books.
“You’ve got a woman who’s taking care of aging parents, another whose mother has cancer, another woman raising small kids,” Brundidge said. “Black and white and old and young.”
The club has met sporadically, and always by phone. “We’d just get on the phone or do some Tango or some Facetiming,” she said, referring to video chat apps. “Sometimes it’d be all of us, sometimes it’d be a couple of us, sometimes we’d just call each other when we saw something really cool in the book.”
To them, Obama is an inspiration.
“Michelle Obama was the first African-American woman I saw who was a professional and a wife and a mother,” Brundidge said. “In the African-American community, a lot of us girls didn’t see marriage. A lot of us were raised by single mothers. So this was the first time I saw a black woman and a black man, a married couple, interacting on a national level. She showed me how to be a better wife. She really did.
“I saw something in Michelle that I wanted for myself.”
Rock star, book star
Published in November, “Becoming” rocketed to the top of the bestseller list one week after publication and stayed there for 14 weeks. It has been published in 42 languages and is a No. 1 bestseller in 11 other countries. The memoir has sold more than 5.6 million copies in the United States and Canada, making it the top-selling hardcover book in the U.S. for 2018 and the top-selling hardcover nonfiction book since 2007.
When Obama’s sold-out book tour ended in December, a second tour was scheduled. That one started Feb. 12 in Phoenix and will conclude May 12 in Nashville — with a break in the middle for events across Europe.
It has been a book tour like no other — part rock concert, part discussion, and all arena show. In Chicago, where the tour kicked off in November, the Chicago Tribune dubbed it “The Michelle Obama Show.”
“Spotlights blazed skyward,” the paper reported. “After a highlight reel, a polished biopic, a video of people telling the camera what they are becoming and the same from a handful of hand-picked audience members, Obama strolled on stage to thunderous cheers.”
Shows have started late, with lines still stretching around the block a half-hour after the planned start time.
“It’s hard to define when a book tour is no longer really a book tour, but this event felt like the deciding difference,” the Washington Post wrote after her appearance in D.C. “Is it when it’s selling out basketball arenas and not dwindling bookstores? Check. When the tickets are going for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars? Check. When most of the crowd hasn’t even read the book yet? When white parents are bringing their 10-year-olds as a treat (and a lesson), and grown black women are bringing their 70-year-old mothers for the same reason? Check and check.”
At each stop, Obama has been “in conversation” with other big names — Oprah Winfrey, Valerie Jarrett, Reese Witherspoon, Conan O’Brien. It was announced on Wednesday that journalist and author (and Minneapolis native) Michele Norris will join her at the Xcel.
Those tennis shoes!
But the moderator scarcely matters.
Other than a few seats in the front rows (at $900-$1,300), tickets sold out weeks ago. Secondary sites show scalped tickets at up to $7,000.
Just like at rock concerts, the Obama events have offered tables of official tour merchandise. But Brundidge and her book club friends are already well-equipped with Michelle Obama tennis shoes, tote bags, T-shirts and jean jackets, which they mailed off to be bedazzled.
“Magical outfits, with sparkle and glitter,” she said.
They plan to make a day of it, and they have a strict itinerary, printed on Michelle Obama stationery and studded with exclamation points: Hair and nails; lunch; spa time; dinner; and THE SHOW!
“I was gonna rent a limo,” Brundidge said. That proved expensive, so instead, “I’m gonna clean up the minivan and get all the Cheetos out of the seats.” She had a magnetic sign made for the side of the van featuring the image from the “Becoming” book jacket.
“I know we’re doing too much, but I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s just fun to see how the book is impacting so many lives on so many levels. Not everyone’s a Democrat, not everyone’s in love with Michelle Obama, but what her story means to so many people — across race, across gender, across class — it’s a book that speaks to all women.”
Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302 @StribBooks • facebook.com/startribunebooks
Becoming: An Intimate Conversation with Michelle Obama
When: 8 p.m. Wed.
Where: Xcel Energy Center, W. 7th St. and Kellogg Blvd., St. Paul.
Tickets: Virtually sold out. Check xcelenergycenter.com for availability.