"Dogland" is exactly the kind of book I doggedly seek.

It doesn't even matter what the book is about; I always have an appetite for nonfiction that is smart, funny and has an attitude toward its subject that suggests both skepticism and affection. Mary Roach's books are a great example of this. Do I have built-in interest in the alimentary canal, the subject of her "Gulp?" No, I do not. But her writing is so attuned to fascinating details, so witty and so deft at making connections between things you'd never think are connected that I absolutely loved a book that has far too much to do with constipation and stomach acid. Same deal with her "Stiff" (corpses) and "Grunt" (war-making).

Tommy Tomlinson's extraordinary "Dogland," subtitled "Passion, Glory, and Lots of Slobber at the Westminster Dog Show," absolutely deserves to be in that company. Perhaps because it's about the feelings of dogs, about whom I do have built-in interest, I liked it even more, since I don't think Roach's great books have ever made me cry. Tomlinson's book is funny more often than it's sad, but chapters about his own dog Fred and a trainer saying goodbye to a champion pooch both got me.

This review could consist of nothing but snappy quotations from the book, such as this origin story of the previously mentioned champion, a stately Samoyed: "Striker exists because of an event that sounds like a sentence from a Motley Crue tour diary: his mother, a bitch named Cherry Brandy, flew to Denmark to mate with a stud named Happy Go Lucky."

A former newspaper columnist, versatile Tomlinson can cite both NBA point guards and electronic dance music in the same sentence. He gets to the bottom of why French bulldogs are suddenly huge. And he uses what could be called a Cloon-O-Meter to describe show dogs: "The Best in Show winner is supposed to be the dog that hews the closes to its breed standard — the most perfect version of itself. It's as if humans decided that George Clooney was the consummate man, and we measured all other men by which ones were the Clooneyest."

Ostensibly, the book is about the 2022 Westminster show, following Striker, a favorite to win Best in Show whose owners had already announced it would be his last competition. Tomlinson gathers tons of fascinating information about how the show works, what judges are looking for and how long similar shows have been around, but his real interest is: Do dogs enjoy it?

"Dogland" (Tomlinson's word for the surprisingly vast and unremunerative world of dog shows) tries to get to the bottom of that admittedly unanswerable question, with the author drawing conclusions based on what he sees. But, as we get deeper into the book, it becomes clear it's really about what humans and dogs mean to each other. We know why we love dogs, who are loyal, loving and non-judgmental (or, at least, keep their judgments to themselves). But do they love us, Tomlinson wonders, and why?

We find out plenty of interesting stuff in "Dogland" — including why poodles are groomed to look like wedding cakes — but what's best about Tomlinson's book is its recognition that, regardless of what the Westminster folks say, every single dog is somebody's Best in Show.


By: Tommy Tomlinson

Publisher: Avid, 227 pages, $28.99.