Matthew McConaughey has the gift of gab and he deployes it with a full throttle in his memoir, Greenlights. The book covers his childhood, his first acting gigs and dealing with stardom. Greenlight’s themes include strong family bonds, a willingness to pivot, a spirit of adventure and being honest with yourself.
The format for Greenlights is an interesting mix of standard memoir, self-help advice, poems and pithy bumper stickers (which are delivered with a pop!). And it’s this format, along with McConaughey’s smooth delivery that makes the Greenlights ripe for a book discussion.
Use our Greenlights book club guide to help you get the McConaughey party started. Start with the publisher synopsis below. Does it accurately reflect your takeaway from the book? Then move onto our 10 Greenlights book club questions and selected reviews to get the conversation moving.
And if you liked the book, keep scrolling because we also suggest 3 books like Greenlights to add to your book pile.
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Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey
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.”
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.
10 Greenlights Book Club Questions
- Let’s talk about the book’s format. If you listened on audio, you got his enthusiastic delivery, asides and accents. If you read the book, you got to see his hand written notes, prescriptions, poems and family photos. How did you consume the book? Discuss how you liked (or didn’t) about that particular format.
- “Green Light” is a classic Hollywood term for when a movie moves from an option (or an idea), to a fully funded production. And yet, McConaughey’s memoir offers up a completely different philosophy for the term. He uses “greenlight” as punctuation for important moments when he took a chance, the road less traveled, listened to his inner self or learned a painful lesson. What did you think about the word “greenlight” as a punctuation? Have you ever had one of those “greenlight” moments?
- “There is nothing wrong with smokin’ a little fun stuff and playing your drums naked at night in your own home; who do they think they are comin’ in your house like that?!” This quote is from McConaughey’s mom, after his infamous arrest in Austin. She was a fierce mom, but also a fan. Did you relate to Mary? If so, in what way?
- “Good looks don’t cook the dinner, but they’ll get you a seat at the table.” And indeed, McConaughy is handsome– his high school even voted so– despite the mink oil incident. Have you ever considered how only the handsome or the pretty get a seat at Hollywood’s table. What about talented people who aren’t that? Can a woman get a seat at that table if she isn’t good looking?
- “Persist, pivot, or concede. It’s up to us, our choice every time.” He shared moments in the book when he did each of those things. Which ones stuck with you?
- While in the Amazon, McConaughey has a moment of revelation when he sees a rabble of colorful butterflies. It makes him realize that he has been living in anticipation, rather than paying attention to the moment. Have you ever had an ah ha moment like that?
- Dude is not afraid to change things up. McConaughey moved many times- to different homes and different locations. He lived the nomadic life for 2 years on the road in the Canoe Airstream. He completely ditched his romcom career seeking more challenging roles. He was a surfer, a traveler, a partier and a bongo player. What do you think of his various transitions? Have you ever made a hard left turn like he has?
- “Nothing will bring you back down to earth like spitting a loogie in your own face.” Yes, he actually forgot that he was wearing a mosquito net and rebounded his own spit onto himself. This story illustrates McConaughey’s own willingness to make fun of himself. He seems to own is foibles. Did you find that refreshing? Was it honest?
- McConaughey offers many pearls of wisdom which shaped his life. And like many non-fiction books, readers will often suss out one or two ideas for a key takeaway. What were your key takeaways from his story?
- McConaughey ends the book by asking- “What’s your story? This is mine so far. Greenlight”. So, what is your story? If you were writing your own memoir, what would be through line?
Selected Greenlights Book Club Reviews
“This is at turns funny, blunt, insightful, emotional, and even so outrageous you wonder if he’s being completely truthful (although it wouldn’t surprise you if he is). But while he’s definitely a what-you-see is what-you-get type of guy, what you get is a man who clearly operates by the strong code of morals and behaviors he was raised with.”
“So I think there are two types of memoirs. One where the author paints the picture they want you to see, their public persona. Then there is the type where they actually let you get a glimpse of their life. Their outlook, thoughts and of course the path they have taken to get where they are at. This right here is the second type…the type I like..”
“He focuses on supposed “greenlights,” yet he doesn’t define them clearly and claims everything is a greenlight, whether he manipulates a situation or things just happen to him. Then the pages are filled with his scribbling, journal entries, and one-sentence sayings that often make little sense.”
“Only reason I knocked off a star is because I wasn’t a huge fan of the self-help parts of this book, I was more interested in hearing his interesting life stories and learning more about his roles and his family and I could’ve done without the strange generic bumper sticker quotes…”
3 Books Like Greenlights
The following books are like Greenlights in that they feature celebrities who are making a sincere effort to bring their true selves to their memoirs.
We’ve also got a whole article featuring great audiobook memoirs (read by their authors).
By Tan France
How does a gay Pakistani Muslim from South Yorkshire end up with a Mormon Cowboy from Utah? Find out by reading this memoir by Tan France. He is famous for his role as the Fashion Guy on Queer Eye. The book covers France finding his voice (and his style), how he came to find love and the story of his coming out to his family.
by Shonda Rhimes
Rhimes is the creative genius behind hit TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder. It’s easy to say “no” when you are running hit TV shows and have kids at home. But when her sister told her that she never says yes to anything, Rhimes was shaken out of her complacency. This memoir follows her as she busts out of her introverted comfort zone and says yes to far more than she ever thought she would.
If you’d like a preview on the book, you can watch her Ted talk.
by Trevor Noah
Noah took over for Jon Stewart as the host of The Daily Show. His memoir covers his South African childhood as the mixed race kid of a Black mom and a White dad. He was born during Apartheid and his conception was literally a crime. The memoir covers how he had to color-switch in order to blend in, how he responded to his poverty and how he dealt with a toxic step-father in order to get through his childhood. He also got up to some serious shenanigans.
If you read the book, then check out our Born a Crime discussion guide for book club ideas.
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