Last night I started to re-read the Walt Longmire series of books by Craig Johnson. This is my third time reading these book, and each time I read them, I love them more and more. Partly it is the characters. Although I enjoyed the Netflix series based on the books, the characters in the books are more alive and real than they seemed in the television show. Partly it is the setting. I enjoy the open wilderness of the setting in Wyoming. Partly it is the stories, which are always interesting. But mostly, it is the writing that impresses me.
The stories are told in first person, in an understated way, which is my favorite kind of writing. I think of books like Stephen King’s From a Buick 8 or Joyland which share this understated style. Instead of feeling like I am reading a novel, the book is written as if Walt Longmire is talking to me in his casual, but perceptive manner. This is the style that I aim for when writing my own stories, which seem clumsy by comparison. The closest I’ve managed to come is in my story “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown.” In that one, I think I got close.
Anyone who enjoys a character series of novels know what I mean when I say that the characters in the books feel like family. There is a comfort in settling down with one of these books, knowing that it is populated with friends.
As I read last night, what I really focused on was the writing. Everything about Johnson’s writing seems flawless to me. So much so that you could easily miss things if you weren’t paying close attention. Though this was my third reading of The Cold Dish, the first book in a series of sixteen (a seventeenth comes out later this year), there were things that I never caught the first time around. Some of these were subtleties of writing, elegant turns of phrase that turn out to have greater meaning when you know the story. Some don’t carry that meaning, but are delightful nonetheless.
These books can make me laugh out loud, something that is not easy to make me do. They can do it for pages on end, on again and off again. The relationship between Henry Standing Bear and Walt is a particularly good one and their interactions feel like the interactions of people who have known each other their entire life and have been best friends through it all.
I’m reading these books again for two reason: first, I am trying to learn what I can from the writing; second, because they are just a joy to read. If you’ve never read any of the Longmire books, I’d highly recommend them.