The Michelle Obama Example: Why Book Publishers Should Make Podcasts With Their Best-Selling Authors

I’m listening to Michelle Obama read her audio book to me. I’m on my own with my headphones and so is she.

I picture the former First Lady sitting upright and calm, with good posture, in a small sound-proofed recording booth with a cool glass of water by her side, alone with her thoughts and carefully chosen words, as she tells a 19-hour-long story that lifts a curtain on her utterly remarkable life.

What a quiet contrast to that night in 2016 when she rocked the hall and wowed the crowd as she gave her electrifying speech to the Democratic National Convention.

During a 16-minute address, Michelle Obama’s short, clear sentences and confident but never cocky manner impressed the nation. She won a jump-off-your-seat standing ovation from the crowd.

It’s no surprise that in a Gallup Poll, released last week, she was named the woman Americans admire most.

Her critically acclaimed memoir, released in mid-November is a smash hit, selling more than two million copies in the first 15 days after its release. “Becoming” is the #1 selling book of 2018.

Sentence-by-sentence the story reveals much about her upbringing in “a family of strivers” in a working class neighborhood on Chicago’s South Shore. For middle-class white readers like myself, the book is a revealing, fascinating and also humbling glimpse at her family background.

“One of the great gifts of Obama’s book is her loving and frank bearing-witness to the lived experiences of the black working class, the invisible people who don’t make the evening news and whom not enough of us choose to see,”  wrote journalist and author, Isabel Wilkerson in her powerful review of “Becoming.”

“She recreates the dailiness of African-American life — the grass-mowing, bid-whist-playing, double-Dutch-jumping, choir-practicing, waiting-on-the-bus and clock-punching of the ordinary black people who surrounded her growing up.”

The audio version of the book has the added bonus of Ms. Obama’s voice. Unlike many book authors, who vocal professionals to do true justice to their words, Ms. Obama reads well, with relaxed polish and warmth. We can hear the passion, precision and humor in her voice.

But I wish that “Becoming” was also a podcast, because the curtain would have been lifted a lot higher on a life that many of us want to know a lot more about.

If pushed to choose between a finely-crafted, well-edited audio book and the spontaneity of an extended series of podcast interviews, I’d pick the latter.

They would have been even more revealing, more intimate, and perhaps more honest than the book. When a good interviewer asks questions there are unplanned for moments.

“Podcasting is the slow food movement of the media world,” says RadioPublic CEO, Jake Shapiro. Our medium “treats listeners with respect, gives publishers a direct relationship with audiences, and gives voice to new talent and communities long missing from the airwaves.”

Here’s hoping that in the new year to come book publishers and their best-selling authors will use in-depth podcasts to establish deeper, stronger and ever more personal contacts with readers and listeners.

Best-selling books need podcast companions.

President Obama’s Amazing Grace Eulogy, and the Power of Love at Emanuel AME Church

  President Obama’s “Amazing Grace” eulogy (from ABC News coverage)
It’s been a long time since you could say it was a good week for President Obama.
And for good measure, this was also one for the history books.

In addition to two sweeping Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and same-sex marriage, the President scored a crucial win in Congress, thanks mostly to well-organized support by Republicans.  He gained full authority to negotiate a sweeping Asia free-trade agreement.  After all the gloom and gridlock of late it was enough to make your head turn.

At the end of the week Obama flew to Charleston, South Carolina to deliver a moving, rousing and eloquent eulogy to Rev. Clementa  Pinckney, who was murdered nine days before at the historic church he led.

The President is very good at this: much better at giving speeches and presiding over somber public ceremonies than the daily grind of governance.  But his even partisan critics cannot deny that Barack Obama’s heartfelt and at times profound remarks on race come from his own lived experience.

During his long address, Mr. Obama evoked the history of black America, through slavery, discrimination and violence. The crowd responded warmly with many “amens”, “yes sirs”, and standing ovations.  There were strains of the church organ and electric guitar.

To the surprise of the congregation and those watching on TV (the three legacy broadcast networks broke into their daytime programing), the President launched forth with a rousing chorus of “Amazing Grace.” His singing may be much better remembered than what he said!

But what moves me the most about what happened in Charleston and elsewhere in recent days has nothing to do with the President words or the  fuss over that blighted Confederate Flag.

It has been the stunning response of the good people of the Emanuel AME Church. After a young white man seized by racial hatred murdered their pastor and eight others in the church basement and devastated their community, they responded with words of love and even forgiveness.

Somewhat incredible you may think.  The increasingly noisy critics of organized Christian religion might stop to ponder that.

This church still stands strong and proud in the belief that love is more powerful than hate. Its open-doors policy to strangers and newcomers remains in place.  As one AME pastor in New Haven, Connecticut told a news reporter, he prefers God’s protection to security guards or surveillance cameras at his church.

One member of the congregation who stood in line for hours before the President’s eulogy said: “I want to be here to show love. You can feel the love, and see the love.”

And love was also front and center at The Supreme Court this week.  The hashtag #lovewins was tweeted more than five million times in the hours after the court’s decision was released.

Writing for the majority in same-sex marriage case, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, devotion, sacrifice and family.”

Every year in late June the major decisions of the Supreme Court are a time for passionate debate about moral and ethical concerns raised in the U.S. Constitution.  This year the  practical importance of love is part of our national conversation. Amen to that.