It’s no secret that Barack Obama is cool. His annual reading and listening lists show he has his finger on the pulse of culture in a way that rivals the most hipster of hipsters. So, I was a bit apprehensive about creating a Perfect Book Experience for the first volume of his memoir, but here it goes.
You know how at the end of most Harry Potter books Harry has a thoughtful and revealing conversation with Dumbledore? The reader is usually given one more clue to the mystery behind Harry’s scar. Reading ‘A Promised Land’, and especially if you get the audio version, is a little like having Dumbledore explain to you how and why everything happened during his tenure the way it did.
You’ll find yourself remembering things you had no idea were lodged in the recesses of your brain. And if you’re not one for following the news, you might find there are several events you’re hearing about for the first time. Obama’s account of his (roughly) first four years in office is, in this Unsanctioned Book Influencer’s opinion, thorough.
What It Tastes Like
While I’d love to recommend his favorite campaign meal of steak, potatoes, and vegetables as the food that represents the book best, this book needs ice cream. For its objectivity I’d go with something invigorating like mint and add chocolate chip for the moments of tenderness. I mean, after his presidency, I think some comfort food was in order.
What It Sounds Like
Trying not to be too on the nose, but I’d sincerely compare this book to Miles Davis’ album ‘Kind of Blue.’ Because he is so cool, Obama beat me to it, as he added ‘Freddie Freeloader’ to his ‘A Promised Land’ playlist (of course he has a playlist for the book) but to me, this book feels like the entire Davis album: moody yet dynamic, heady yet conversational.
This Book Might Be Your Next Read If:
You’re ready to wade back into the practice of following current events, but you need some hand-holding
Matthew McConaughey might remind you a little bit of Ernest Hemingway. They both favor declarative sentences, and while there wasn’t any bullfighting in ‘Greenlights’ there may as well have been. If you choose to read this book, opt for the audio version, if only to make the affects of this book more potent. Be warned, your reaction to the first twenty minutes just might be an honest to goodness “WTF.”
The structure of the book is almost thrust upon the reader/listener. Think of the boat scene in the 1971 classic, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” As strange as the book starts, almost just as abruptly you’ll find yourself accustomed to his verbal-heading outbursts of “Note to Self!” and “Pree-scription!” and “Bumpersticker!” The trippy boat ride stops and you settle in to what is generally more akin to a smooth canoe ride down a glassy river.
Because of the outbursts, the slightly unbelievable anecdotes, the compelling dialogue, the uneven life advice, and the vulnerability that borders on TMI, ‘Greenlights’ is a casserole.
A little of this, some of that, everything congealed with a sticky substance–and McConaughey’s sticky substance is charisma. He’s a good storyteller, almost as much because he thinks he is as the fact that he has some talent for it. In the introduction, he says the book is not really a memoir or self-help and he’s right; it’s both and so it’s neither. Yet, whatever he has thrown together in this literary casserole, it still satisfies.
To his credit, you’ll feel a lot of things listening to stories about his family and his upbringing. Some might say he has the power to move you. Others might say that there’s a lot of “emotional unpacking” he needs to do. Yet through his mantras/advice/insights he seems to take ownership of it all. I found his attitudes nicely reflected in the lyrics of Feist’s song “I Feel It All” (“I’ll be the one who’ll break my heart”,) though, McConaughey would probably prefer his book being compared to a John Mellencamp song.
This Book Might Be Your Next Read If:
You like celebrity memoirs
You’re interested in intentional and unintentional depictions of masculinity
You like the way Matthew McConaughey’s voice sounds
You want to understand the perspectives of people who are successful in their chosen profession
You want to laugh along with someone who’s laughing at himself