Books / Book Reviews

Greenlights Book Review


Towards the end of 2020, it seemed that almost everywhere I went someone was reading – or talking about – Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey. There were people thumbing through it on the beach; dog-eared copies sat next to half-drunk cups of coffee in cafes dotted around Bondi, and nearly every time I was in Gertrude & Alice a hopeful shopper would ask if they had it in stock. And while I’m not usually one for celebrity memoirs – indeed I would struggle to tell you the last time I read one – I was intrigued as to what it was about Greenlights that seemed to be taking the reading world by storm. Knowing almost nothing about either Matthew McConaughey or his filmography (other than a long-standing hatred for the time he played an exaggerated version of himself in the Escape from New York episode of Sex and the City) I decided to make it the first book I read in 2021. And while I began the book with almost no expectations, I was soon swept away by McConaughey’s poignant and affecting ode to life.

Greenlights Book Review 

Part memoir, part guide to life, part collection of extracts from diaries the actor has been keeping for decades, Greenlights by Matthew McConoughey is an insightful and intimate exploration of one southern boy’s journey to stardom. Born to ‘twice divorced and thrice married parents’, I loved reading McConoughey’s honest account of being raised in a turbulent household that was peppered by violence, love and humanity, I loved reading about the time using mink-oil as acne cream went horribly wrong, about the time a stolen pizza that led to a concussion, and about an ill-fated lawsuit that his father never forgave him for.

Interwoven within the nostalgic narrative is McConoughey’s take on life; as a self-proclaimed optimistic, he sprinkles the text with the term ‘greenlights’ – after which the memoir is named – and explains them as being “an affirmation, [and a way of] setting yourself up for success. A greenlight can be as simple as putting your coffee in the coffee filter before you go to bed so tomorrow morning all you’ve got to do is push the button.”

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From the year he spent abroad as a Rotary Exchange student in Australia, to the aftermath of his father’s death, to meeting his now wife, to turning his back on the movies that made him a household name, Greenlights is a beautifully written, evocative and unique narrative provides a candid look at what went on behind the scenes of one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors.

A brilliant book to start the new year with, and one that is as inspiring as it is entertaining, I’ll end my review of Greenlights with one of my favourite quotes, “Reach beyond your grasp. Have immortal finish lines and turn your red light green because a roof is a man-made thing.”

Greenlights Book Review

Greenlights Summary

From the Academy Award®–winning actor, an unconventional memoir filled with raucous stories, outlaw wisdom, and lessons learned the hard way about living with greater satisfaction

I’ve been in this life for fifty years, been trying to work out its riddle for forty-two, and been keeping diaries of clues to that riddle for the last thirty-five. Notes about successes and failures, joys and sorrows, things that made me marvel, and things that made me laugh out loud. How to be fair. How to have less stress. How to have fun. How to hurt people less. How to get hurt less. How to be a good man. How to have meaning in life. How to be more me.

Recently, I worked up the courage to sit down with those diaries. I found stories I experienced, lessons I learned and forgot, poems, prayers, prescriptions, beliefs about what matters, some great photographs, and a whole bunch of bumper stickers. I found a reliable theme, an approach to living that gave me more satisfaction, at the time, and still: If you know how, and when, to deal with life’s challenges—how to get relative with the inevitable—you can enjoy a state of success I call “catching greenlights.”

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So I took a one-way ticket to the desert and wrote this book: an album, a record, a story of my life so far. This is fifty years of my sights and seens, felts and figured-outs, cools and shamefuls. Graces, truths, and beauties of brutality. Getting away withs, getting caughts, and getting wets while trying to dance between the raindrops.

Hopefully, it’s medicine that tastes good, a couple of aspirin instead of the infirmary, a spaceship to Mars without needing your pilot’s license, going to church without having to be born again, and laughing through the tears.

It’s a love letter. To life.

It’s also a guide to catching more greenlights—and to realizing that the yellows and reds eventually turn green too.

Good luck.

Matthew McConaughey Author Bio

Academy Award-winning actor Matthew McConaughey is a married man, a father of three children, and a loyal son and brother. He considers himself a storyteller by occupation, believes it’s okay to have a beer on the way to the temple, feels better with a day’s sweat on him, and is an aspiring orchestral conductor.

In 2009, Matthew and his wife, Camila, founded the just keep livin Foundation, which helps at-risk high school students make healthier mind, body, and spirit choices. In 2019, McConaughey became a professor of practice at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as Minister of Culture/M.O.C. for the University of Texas and the City of Austin. McConaughey is also brand ambassador for Lincoln Motor Company, an owner of the Major League Soccer club Austin FC, and co-creator of his favorite bourbon on the planet, Wild Turkey Longbranch.

Further reading

If you loved Greenlights, you might also like one of the books that made Fashion Journal’s ‘reading list that will motivate you to take charge of your life in 2021’.

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