Book review: Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

I never cared about Matthew’s romcom roles, and I’ve never seen him as a sex symbol. Sure, he’s got objectively good looks, but chacun son goût (to each their own.)

When he starred in movies like Lincoln Lawyer and Mud, I paid attention. Then he won an Oscar for Dallas Buyer’s Club. I appreciated his acceptance speech, and even clapped when he said his catchphrase, “Alright, alright, alright.” I still think his role in the TV show True Detective is his best yet.

All this to say, I’m aware of him. I’ve always thought Matthew a bit of a smart alec with the kind of over-sized confidence only an American can have. But maybe if I looked like him, I’d be that confident too.

Still, listening to Greenlights — and you HAVE to listen to this book, not read it, at least the first time — I felt I absorbed some of his confidence just by hearing his proverbs, poems, and quotations.

I listened to his memoir with an open mind. I found out about Greenlights in his interview on Real Time with Bill Maher. I felt sorry for Matthew because Bill didn’t seem interested in hearing about his book.

I like rolling the dice, so maybe that’s why I thought, “What the hell, I’m going to check out his book.”

I did. I enjoyed it.

I thought it was cute that he put ‘bumper’ and ‘sticker’ together to make a ‘new’ word: bumpersticker. I love new words, so I thought, “Sure, go for it.” A bumpersticker introduces a poem, saying, proverb or note to self.

I let myself learn from his life story. It’s well-written, with a good narrative pace and structure. It’s always fun to get a glimpse of a different way of experiencing the world (isn’t that why we read in the first place?) and his life experience is very different from mine. I wonder if he and his brothers survived their childhood out of a superhuman level of resilience, or a whole lot of therapy. Either way, it takes a lot to be able to maintain good family relationships, and I respect what it took for him to do that.

The book includes several ‘Note to Self’ moments. The one that most resonated with me was:


Any success takes one in a row.
Do one thing well, then another.
Once, then once more.
Over and over until the end,
then it’s oneinarow again.

I know, it doesn’t sound that profound, but it does in the context of his story, and it does when you really think about it. I recently had an important professional success, and while I wondered when the next would come, I heard that ‘Note to Self’ and thought — exactly. Get to work, Anna.

Greenlights is mostly about Matthew’s family life and the decisions he made to pursue his goals as he had them. It’s not a tell-all Hollywood story. It’s the story of one man’s life so far, the way he sees it.

I betcha one day he said to himself, “I’m going to write a book about my life.” And then he did, with one word, then another, and then another until the end. We should all try to do the same, whatever we’re trying to achieve.

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