Friday, November 20, 2015

Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson

Most of the tales in Wait For Signs are winter stories and descriptions of six-foot snow drifts and thermometer readings of ten below zero will send you scrambling for a cozy blanket to curl up under as you read them.
Craig Johnson (who I posted about here after his recent appearance at the Louisville Public Library's Author Series) is the author of these short stories and thirteen full-length mystery novels featuring his modern day Sheriff Walt Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming. The first story in this book, "Old Indian Trick," was written ten years ago, more or less on a dare from his wife, as an entry for the Tony Hillerman Mystery Short Story Contest.  

He won.

I have read about half of the dozen stories included in this collection. I was quite taken with Mr. Johnson and his entertaining talk and have been watching the Longmire series on Netflix. I tried to read these tales as someone who wasn't familiar with the characters to see if they held up on their own. Oh, yes. They are thoughtful and funny and it is a delight to be in Sheriff Longmire's world. 

Mr. Johnson has a calm or maybe I should say gentle writing style. These stories are more about character than action. Just short episodes in the day - or night - of a Wyoming sheriff. 

Heck, some of the stories don't even involve a crime. Of course there are ones that do - there is the unveiling of an arsonist whose crimes have gone unsolved for decades; a Christmas Eve encounter with an old woman waiting for Jesus (lucky for her she gets Longmire instead; not so lucky for her abusive husband); and, a slick-tongued Bible salesman who tries to put one over on Longmire. You can imagine how that turns out.

Wait for Signs is a wonderful introduction to Sheriff Walt Longmire's law-and-order ways. You can consider this a Sign from me that there is no reason for you to Wait to meet him.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin

Image result for better than before review

Our habits - the things we do routinely, without much thought - are what make up much of our days. Those habits can be good for us - eat your vegetables, walk 20 minutes, get up early. Or, they can be bad for us - eating too much sugar, sittingsittingsitting, getting too little or too much sleep.

As someone who thrives on structure and routine, I was interested to read what Happiness Guru Gretchen Rubin had to say in her latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives. She doesn't presume to tell us what habits to develop, but gives strategies on how to start a new habit (or stop an outdated one as the case may be) and to keep pushing on past the stumbling blocks that will inevitably litter our path.

As is her way, the blogger and author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home (I wrote about those books herehere and here), does a ton of research but instead of blinding us with science and statistics, digests what she learns and applies it to herself. Her books are full of her own and others' experiments with happiness and habits.

Because she believes self-knowledge is key to any change, she offers a quiz for the reader to determine what Tendencies she or he has and how that Tendency might best determine strategies for staying motivated.

It turns out that I am an Upholder (I am attracted to the predictability of schedules and the satisfaction of crossing items off to-do lists) with strong leanings toward Questioner (I will do something or make a change if I think it makes sense).

Once you know your Tendency (the other two are Obliger and Rebel) she lays out a variety of strategies to get your habit put into place. 

The entire time I was reading the book, I was aware of one habit I wanted to begin and one I wanted to quit. The first is to get back to walking. I was on a roll for a long time and then bad weather and a sore knee took me down. 

As an Upholder, the key for me in re-developing this good habit is monitoring (keeping a walking diary), scheduling (the days I will walk and the time), convenience (walk in the neighborhood), and pairing (couple my walk with something else that I enjoy - listening to music, podcast, or audio book).

The habit I want to give up is the inordinate attachment to my smart phone. I have slowly added more and more time-guzzling apps - Flipboard, Huffington Post, The Guardian, and four or five local news sites. And then there is the game Word Mix. I use the excuse that it is keeping my brain sharp but not after playing it for an hour! 

Alas, I have become the person I never wanted to be: someone constantly looking at a screen. 

Image result for no cell phone sign black and white

Here are the strategies Ms. Rubin suggests that I use to break this attachment. First, I could just delete all the apps and go cold turkey (Abstaining). Or I could delete one site a week until I get down to one or two of my absolute favorites (Moderating). I could leave my phone in another room (Inconvenient) so I have to deliberately get up to use it. I could tell myself to "wait fifteen minutes" (Distraction) when I feel the impulse to grab my phone and play Word Mix or check the headlines to see what new catastrophe has occurred. 

If you are thinking about adopting better habits in the new year - or beginning a change right now - you can't go wrong with Ms. Rubin as your coach. 

A caveat: I do wish I had read this in paper book form instead of on my Kindle as I kept wanting to refer to previous sections and that is difficult to do with an e-book. One can, however, easily highlight sections that settle in the Notes screen, but it is not quite the same.

Anyway, if you were going to embrace a good habit or jettison a bad one, what would that habit be?  Come on. You know you want to tell me...

Friday, November 6, 2015

Longmire: A Cowboy Comes to Kentucky

A little bit of Wyoming dust kicked its way into Louisville last night. Said dust was on the boots of Craig Johnson author of the Longmire mystery series.

Perhaps you are not familiar with modern-day Sheriff Walter Longmire of Absaroka County, Wyoming.  He is: Thoughtful. Quiet. A man of his word. A man who doesn't jump to conclusions but will stoop down to pick up litter off the street. A man who carries a sidearm but not a cellphone.  A fellow who is not perfect but he sure is a Good Man.

And Longmire's creator Craig Johnson appears to be a good man as well. He showed up last night in boots and cowboy hat, jeans and silver belt buckle to speak at the Louisville Free Public Library's author series. 

He was a delight. Funny. Personable. Charismatic. 

I wish he would run for president.

Author Craig Johnson

I came to know Longmire from the television series which I have been watching on Netflix. Then I discovered, just in time to reserve a (free) ticket to hear Mr. Johnson, that he has written a series of thirteen books that the television show is based upon. Wow! I really have something to look forward to. I didn't want to begin the books until I finished watching the fourth season of the show (with a fifth in the works) just in case there were any spoilers.

Mr. Johnson had the entire audience (it was a packed house) laughing at his stories of writing the books - he worked with the sheriff of his own county in Wyoming on the procedural aspects of the books - and some behind-the-TV scene tales. The man knows how to spin a yarn. 

He said that after seven Longmire books had been published, Warner Bros. approached him about doing a television series. The studio Powers That Be sent to him at his ranch in Ucross, Wyoming (population 25) the auditions for the part of Longmire. Robert Taylor's audition (he is an Australian actor) was the last DVD in the box. 

Here's what sealed the deal: The scene has Longmire going to a woman's home to notify her of her husband's death. As he crosses the threshold, Taylor takes off his hat. This simple, respectful act captured Longmire's character. He got Johnson's recommendation and the part.

The woman sitting next to me had read all the books and just recently watched the television series. The couple behind me in the autograph line (yes, you know I bought his latest Wait for Signs, a book of twelve Longmire short stories) had only read the books. Another woman only listened to the mysteries as audio books and is crazy about the narrator George Guidall. It seems that no matter what the medium, Sheriff Walt Longmire is a favorite.

This is the ruggedly handsome Robert Taylor
Sheriff Walt Longmire

I must admit I have a weakness for cowboys. And after last night this song is definitely stuck in my head:

O give me land, lots of land, and the starry skies above,
Don't fence me in
Let me ride through the wide open country that I love
Don't fence me in