Earlier this week, I ran across a reddit post mentioning Matthew McConaughey's book, Greenlights. This book has been on my radar since it's release last year, but I've been hesitant about reading it. After a glowing review of the audio version, I decided to use up one of my wife's Kindle credits and give it a listen.
The book is only about six hours, which was much shorter than I was expecting. I finished it up today and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on it as it's been on my mind all week.
I've been a huge Matthew McConaughey fan for some time now. I was the guy defending him while he was taking it easy in the rom-coms and I'm the guy whose seen Fool's Gold at least a dozen times unironically. What appealed to me about McConaughey was his chill attitude. I've always been fascinated and attracted to people who truly let life come and go, because that is what I'm always striving for. It's who I want to be. The guy who let's all that truly does not matter slide.
I was enamored with his tales of RV living, traveling the world, and being a genuine person in Hollywood. I loved his taste of music when he launched his JK Livin Records, and went and saw his sole signie Mishka in concert twice. I also rocked a JK Livin shirt and even went as far as having a custom license plate. I loved the concept of just keep living and for a period in my life it truly defined me. One might call it a phase, but I see it as a chapter in my life.
McConaughey's career took back off, I got to hear a lot of “Damn, we were wrong” comments from my co-workers, and McConaughey's life changed quite a bit. He went from living in various Airstreams to buying a house, getting married, having kids, and settling down. I wasn't able to relate quite so much to his simple family life, so I stopped following his career as much and moved on with my life.
With that being said, a book written by the man who once idealized the lifestyle and free spirit that I desire to have sounded like it would be perfect for me. So why was I so hesitant to read it? Well, I'm less naive now and I knew there would be things in that book that would break the image of McConughey and the JK Livin lifestyle I once adored.
Early on in the book, Matthew (who you will come to know him by), mentions this is not a memoir or a self-help book, but an accumulation of stories he's pulled from journals he's kept over thirty years. He's putting together this book as a sort of bookend to the first fifty years of his existence in preparation for the next fifty years. This is important to keep in mind, because once he get's started, it's hard to tell what and who the book is actually for.
The Good: -The audio book is well read but a bit overacted. With that being said, I felt connected with author in an incredible way. His accent really helped bring the story to life and I'm not sure I would have finished the book if not for this.
-Within the book are some incredible stories. One of my favorites was how he got his role in Texas Chainsaw Massacre The Next Generation. Another great one discusses his time in living in trailer parks and the pros and cons with doing so. Although, the best story is about his time spent as a foreign exchange student in Australia with a unconventional family.
-He doesn't make excuses. As you'll see in “The Bad” section, there are some troubling stories about his family, particularly his parents. While I do feel he hero worships them too much, it's nice to see he doesn't dive into a pity party or spends half the book complaining about his upbringing. Then again, if I had his upbringing, I might spend half the book doing so because it would feel justified.
-His use of the word greenlights represents the various things that occur in our life that we like. The things that help us get to where we want to go. I do enjoy him applying the word to various situations and even showing how red lights or yellow lights ultimately can become green lights.
The Bad: -His authenticness is often offset by his pretentiousness.
-Many of the stories come across like fisherman's tales, where the details have been exaggerated in order to enhance the story. Unlike a fisherman's tales where the size of the fish is the only thing exaggerated, Matthew's stories tend to be so outrageous and outlandish I found myself muttering to myself often, “Yeah, right.”
-There is an inconsistency in his messaging. For example: he spends a lot of time discussing how much his father valued honesty, but then spends just as much time discussing what a crook/con his father (as well as himself) was. It's hard to hold space for this “virtuous man” who fights his kids, gives beer to his eight year old kid, gambles, robs trucks, etc. etc.
-The first story in the book is about his parents and his mother calling his father fat because he asked for more mashed potatoes. The fight goes from verbal to physical and involves knives, broken bottles, and then them having sex on the kitchen floor. It's that absurd and horrifying, yet McConaughey seems to honor his parents throughout most of the book.
-The stories are broken up by random philosophical ideas he's come up with or bumper stickers, which I think are also mostly made up. You pretty much tune out of the reading during these points because it feels like an excuse to cram as many big words into a small place as possible.
By the time I reached the end of Greenlights, I hated it. In fact, I definitely left thinking less of Matthew McConaughey after reading it, but I can't lean into completely disliking it. I think the reason for that is because the book is not a memoir or self-help book, as he explained before he started. It was just one man going through his notebooks and making them public.
I guess, the one thing I pulled away from Greenlights is that Matthew McConaughey is who he is. He's not a well adjusted member of society and deep down, I'm not even sure he's a good person. But he has some interesting stories to tell and an intriguing outlook on life and that itself made my listen to Greenlights not a total waste of time.