Read Like a Gent: Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Celebrity is defined as the state of being famous. Today’s sense of celebrity seems to also evoke the idea that a celebrity is the person most seen and heard from. Which is why the idea of reading a book by a celebrity can be cringeworthy.

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey is the least expected celebrity-written book to grace the shelves of…almost everywhere. Mainly, it is unexpected because we don’t expect someone like Matthew McConaughey to stoop so low as to share his life’s story with the masses as if they absolutely must know everything about him.

However, this book is not the typical celebrity-shilled money grab. While you will get to know his insights into some of the more gossip-worthy actions of his popular life, you will not be told how to live the perfect life. There is no infomercial tackiness to this recollection of a man’s life before, during, and possibly after celebrity. Instead, this is a story of a man who has gotten some things right and some things not so right, and he shares both with equal appreciation. 

McConaughey is very clear that Greenlights is not an advice book, nor is it simply a memoir. His approach in writing this book was to give people an insight into his approach to his life, filled with insights. It’s his playbook. His love letter to his first 50 years of life on Earth.

Bumper Stickers and Why They Matter

The author’s thoughts on bumper stickers are that they give life lessons without having to mean anything as serious as a life lesson. They are tongue-in-cheek quotes read quickly and thought about for only a short, passing time. But they do mean something.

He looks at aha moments in his life as bumper stickers, and they are one of the three repeating categories often shared and emphasized throughout the book, along with prescriptions and green lights. Thoughts about life, thoughts about success, or thoughts about heartache can all be distilled into his version of bumper stickers, and are done so throughout the book from start to finish.

Given Matthew’s persona as the public knows it, you expect bumper stickers from the man who has advertised for products ranging from automobiles to bourbons. Quick, insightful, and typically humorous quips that go by fast but can make you think if you only slow down to give them a chance. They also represent his true Texanism, appropriate for someone hired as the Minister of Culture for the University of Texas.

Perhaps the most appropriate bumper sticker written in the book is that he “…never wrote things down to remember; I always wrote things down so I could forget.”  The content that fills the book is mostly taken from his journals that he wrote in daily, or almost daily, for the prior 35 years. So, Greenlights can be seen as a book of forgotten memories and lessons that may not be forgotten, as much as codified and stored away to allow for more memories to take their place. A sort of commonplace book of memories to leave in dust or break out on a rainy day. 

Prescriptions for Him

Clever witticisms aside, the book also provides McConaughey’s thoughts on approaches to life to take, or not take, to “…get more of what you want, or cure what ails you.” He is careful to not sound preachy, as much as he admits he loves a good preacher. He instead walks the line of providing an example of what has worked for him without promising it will work for you.

Too many celebrity tomes come across as admonishing to those who would read them. Their successes are packaged into ageless aphorisms, and the celebrities seem almost baffled that everyone else hasn’t found success using those aphorisms. As an antidote to this approach, McConaughey’s southern charm softens the approach of telling you how to live your life. Additionally, he makes it blatantly obvious in the beginning that his approach may be one that could be followed by readers, but followed at their own risks and with varying results.

Green Lights – How To Know That Everything Is Alright

One of the greatest takeaways from the book is when McConaughey explains the birth of his most repeated movie line, “Alright, alright, alright.” More than just a laid-back salutation, it was a checklist leading up to a meeting of his character with a cute girl in the movie Dazed and Confused. It was a last-minute ad-lib spouted from a car in a scene where Wooderson meets the cute redhead played by Marissa Ribisi. As Matthew described it, he had his car, his drugs, and his rock and roll. He realized three out of four ain’t bad, but he was on his way to get the girl. The fourth “alright”.

This moment was a green light for McConaughey. It was a moment where he was able to do something he loved to do, based solely on his perspective of a character. The line is remembered for a reason it is a classic line in a classic movie, said by an actor before he was considered a classic.

Green lights in the book are the moments for McConaughey when he knows he is on the right path. The moments that are pivotal in his life up until today. He does a good job in the book of not turning these moments into bragging rights, but instead examples of when intuition was listened to, and the listener rewarded accordingly.  

This celebrity-written book could have been a disaster by revealing the man behind the mask in too much detail. Instead, the folksy approach and brotherly delivery of McConaughey’s enjoyment of life serves as another green light. The book further endears you to a man who comes across as cool and likable and too genuine actually to exist in Hollywood. 

In the end, the book is about his version of l-i-v-i-n. He hopes that it may help you find your version, as well.   

Photo by Ethan Rougon on Unsplash

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