Monday, May 20, 2024

Dogland by Tommy Tomlinson

Dogland by Tommy Tomlinson is an excellent work of nonfiction about the Westminster Dog Show, dogs in general, and Tomlinson and his relationship to dogs, especially his dog, Fred. 

Tomlinson in this book starts off by writing about the mockumentary Best in Show and he covers how dog show judges pick winners based on the dog that best epitomizes the breed. The most popular dogs aren't usually going to win. He writes about a dog show champion Samoyed named Striker, Striker's handler, Laura King, and a great cast of characters different than most. I love reading about cross-sections of people that are passionate about something that others aren't, fully enveloped in a world they love, that they inhabit not for money, but because it's who they are and what they do. 

There's also great personal narrative included, bringing to mind Tomlinson's first book, The Elephant in the Room: One Fat Man's Quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America. The part of the book about Tomlinson's dog Fred is definitely my favorite. As he writes, the unspoken contract of having a pet is you will die before them. As is talked about by John Wick, dogs make us be "unalone." They provide companionship, force us to exercise, and keep us engaged with the world by forcing a schedule on us, making us get up in the morning. Tomlinson also tells the story of ESPN Sportscenter anchor Scott Van Pelt and his dog Otis

Tomlinson quotes from a story by his friend Chris Jones, one of my favorite writers, on the magician Teller for Esquire. Teller is quoted saying "sometimes magic is just someone spending more time on something than anyone else might reasonably expect." Tomlinson connects how that sort of like the dog-human relationship, perhaps dogs figured out the path to their survival is becoming indispensable to humans. The book is nominally about Westminster and dog shows, but uses that frame to tell about relationships and how we feel about our dogs, what they give to us, and what we seem to give to them. It's a book about connection, it's lovely.