Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

For some of us, Matthew McConaughey will always be the guy whose 2015 commencement speech, packaged as a motivational talk, has reached well over 13 million views on YouTube. Yes, yes, we fell for his easy twang, his caramel-colored charm, his pectorals in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, but it was his take on the difference between joy and happiness (one, you see, is a state, while the other is a response) that stopped us in our tracks. So perhaps the least surprising thing about McConaughey’s first book, Greenlights, is that it begins with a bombardment of one-liners that, depending on how far you live from Hollywood, sound like Confucius after a few too many Michelobs. Reminiscent at times of David Brooks’s celebrated distinction between the résumé and the eulogy, McConaughey writes as Brooks might if the New York Times columnist were an unbuttoned Texan wild man who’d gotten arrested for playing the bongos naked.

“I never wrote things down to remember,” our hero tells us early on; “I always wrote things down so I could forget.” It’s not a terrible line, and it prepares us for the mix of raucous anecdotes and bumper-sticker maxims extracted from 35 years of diary-keeping that follow. The fact that many of the aphorisms make no sense at all suggests that the actor really did write every last word himself. The runaway voice that keeps the pages flying past—“I’ve had four concussions from falling out of four trees, three of them on a full moon”—reminds us that this is a frat-boy La Rochefoucauld who seems wonderfully impossible to embarrass.