“Greenlights” – Matthew McConaughey (5/5 ★)

Reading Matthew McConaughey’s memoir is comparable with the experience of sitting down with a good friend and simply having a chat about life. Having a laugh with each other, shedding some tears and sharing some little life lessons. It’s especially ideal as an end of start of the year read, as it manages to round up the most important events in the actor’s life throughout his past 50 years, inspiring you to reflect on the year you have spent yourself. You’ll be embarking on a journey taking you from chidlhood stories, to crazy teenager adventures, to the path of Matthew becoming more mature and more confident in his own skin. As he describes it himself in the very end of the book, as in why he wrote it, he manages to tick all the boxes mentioned:

“I hope it can be useful and lend a hand if you need it, that it might teach you something, inspire you, make you laugh, remind you, help you forget, and arm you with some life tools to better march forward as more of yourself.” (p. 288)

I haven’t been a particular fan of the actor before and it was more the curiosity about the book and its recent publication date that drew me towards it. My initial thought definitely was though, “That guy, he’s a great actor!” It’s only when re-reading his story that I remembered how many romantic comedies he has starred in before getting to his more significant roles. It gives you even more appreciation for his craft when you have the whole story revealed in front of you and when you can better understand how much work goes into leaving a real mark as an actor. It’s really rewarding to get intimate insights as a reader into where a lot of Matthew’s inspiration for acting comes from – real life, real people and lots of stories picked up during his travels.

“Ms. Hud [his dog] and I enjoyed boondocking and the trailer park life, especially the people we met and observed along the way. For me, this was Acting and Storytelling 101, a front-row seat to real characters in real life.” (p. 165)

The actor has managed to lead a remarkable life and career, so it’s an automatic side-effect that he goes through an enormous development on this way. What he manages as a writer, is to portray it in a humble and non-lecturing kind of way. He comes across as an easy-going narrator and gives off a vibe across the pages that envelops you in a cozy atmosphere. Most of all, the focus is placed on hard work and how much of it is needed in order to achieve your goals. Even if some “basic wisdoms” are shared, in the style of “you won’t appreciate the ups in your life if you haven’t experienced the downs”, what makes it special and makes it really come to life are the hands-on examples he gives that he has lived through himself.

We cannot fully appreciate the light without the shadows. We have to be thrown off balance to find our footing. It’s better to jump than fall.” (p. 83)

” ‘What is success to me? ‘ Continue to ask yourself that question. How are you prosperous? What is your relevance? Your answer may change over time and that’s fine, but do yourself this favor: Whatever your answer is, don’t choose anything that will jeopardize your soul. Prioritize who you are, who you want to be, and don’t spend time with anything that antagonizes your character.” (p. 256)

Some more expected parts are shared, as in the background stories of the filming of some of his on-screen roles, but also some very surprising ones – did you for example know that he wrote poems and composed music? Below is just one example of a few lines within one of his poems that really stood out to me:

why we all need a walkabout
[…] and we realize we are
stuck with the one person we can never be rid of:
ourselves.

[…] and no matter who’s in our
bed each night, we sleep
with ourselves. (p. 147)



“There is a difference between art and self-expression.
All art is self-expression.
All self-expression is not art.” (p. 281)

Besides the deeper moments, there were also the ones that were filled with humour that I enjoyed the most. Stories about his parents, his siblings and his upbringing. It reminded me a bit of another memoir that I read this year, “Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah. Both Matthew and Trevor have grown up in quite religious surroundings and it’s interesting to see how these influences carried on into adult life.

“I got my first ass whupping for answering to ‘Matt’ on the kindergarten playground (‘You weren’t named after a doormat!’ Mom screamed), my second for saying ‘I hate you’ to my brother, my thrid for saying ‘I can’t’, and my forth for telling a lie about a stolen pizza.” (p. 24)

“When Mike [Matthew’s brother] was in high school, he started to grow long hair. It grew long enough that the coach of his football team, Jim Caldwell, asked him to get it cut. My dad agreed, but Mike refused.
[…] ‘Now son, listen to me now, quit being stubborn and just cut your damn hair’.
[…] ‘Well, Jesus had long hair too!’ Mike blurted.
[…] Dad proceeded to drive eight miles past Mike’s school, not saying a word. Suddenly he pulled off to the side of the road, leaned over and opened the passenger door, pushed my brother out the door, and said, ‘Yeah, well, Jesus walked everywhere, too, boy!’ ” (p. 33)

This is a book that I immensely enjoyed from the beginning on, until the very end. I was looking forward to it each time I would pick it up and continue reading once again, so that I finished it within just a couple of days. I would suggest it to you if you’re generally interested in memoirs, some great story-telling and learning about other people’s lives. To finish off, one last quote with Matthew’s short take on 2020. This one left a bigger mark on me and spoke to me more than the dedicated book of essays on the pandemic, “Intimations“, by Zadie Smith that I just read the month before.

“Both of these red lights [the COVID-19 pandemic and the killing of George Floyd] forced us inward, literally quarantined us to search our souls for a better way forward. In doing so, we took inventory of our lives and who we are in them – what we care about, what our priorities are, what matters. We got to know our children, families, and ourselves better. We read, we wrote, we prayed, we cried, we listened, we screamed, we spoke out, we marched, we helped others in need.” (p. 288)

★★★★★ (5/5)

Edition: ISBN 978-1-4722-8083-1
Headline Publishing, 2020

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