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Below the Beltway

Two of my closest friends have new books out. They are excellent, important books, but they aren't selling well. That's because the only books that sell well these days are cheesy, suck-uppy, transparently cynical products that make people feel good about something they already believe, such as the book I wrote three years ago. It was about old dogs. Its title was "Old Dogs." It said old dogs are swell.

I am proud of this book, but neither I nor my co-author ever pretended it was anything other than an effort to cash in on sentiment. And, in fact, that book sold so much better than my other books that I considered sequels: "Even Older Dogs." "Old Cats." "Wise Hamsters We Have Loved and Lost," etc.

My point is, I was counting on people being softies, and they didn't disappoint. Then, a few months ago, seemingly out of the blue, I suddenly started getting a string of angry e-mails about the dog book. There were more than a dozen of them, from different people, all taking exception to one particular passage. This one:

"It's no big deal to love a dog; they make it so easy for you. They find you brilliant even if you are a witling. You fascinate them even if you are as dull as a butter knife. They are fond of you even if you are a genocidal maniac: Hitler loved his dogs, and they loved him."

You are probably thinking the letter writers felt I was disrespecting dogs. Nope. Too easy on Hitler? Nope.

Too easy on dogs.

Some excerpts:

"Are you nuts, man? If dogs loved Hitler, it's just proof they are yapping, crapping morons."

Here's another:

"Dogs do not love. They eat. They'll follow anyone who feeds them."


"What's with all this goo over dogs? Dogs are not people, people! And stop letting them relieve themselves all over my yard."

It turns out these e-mails were all coming from a single Yahoo discussion group that had read my book and that seems to have a vocal subset of dog-disparaging grumps. I answered each one. I said that they had convinced me that my lifelong love for dogs was severely in error, causing me to rethink all my other priorities in life, which persuaded me that I am a misguided fraud, and that, on balance, I had no choice but to kill myself slowly with a cheese grater.

But what I really was thinking is that in our hyper-confrontational world there is no longer any subject so benign, so "safe" that it is immune to tooth-gnashing vitriol. I wondered if it would even be possible to write a book everyone would love. I decided, no.

Book: "How to Survive Cancer!"

Letter: "You want to show Gadhafi how to survive cancer? What kind of a fool are you?"

Book: "The Big Picture Book of Kittens Eating Peanut Butter."

Letter: "Nice way to make kids with peanut allergies feel bad about themselves!"

Book: "Everyone Is a Hidden Genius."

Letter: "You're saying Obama is smart?"

Book: "Babies Are Great!"

Letter: "Are you nuts, man? Babies are napping, crapping morons."

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