ON A TUESDAY on the cusp of the New Year, a cloud of existential angst drifted over the newsroom at the Philadelphia Inquirer. Twothousand-five had already been a discouraging year for the Inq-stained wretches at 400 North Broad, what with the buyouts and the rumors of the sale and the fricking blogs — they don’t even care about accuracy, you know — all of the things that contributed to the constant, hovering threat of oblivion at the paper,even though we make plenty of money goddammit, although it couldn’t ever be enough to suit those greedy Wall Street creeps. Now, on top of everything, insult heaped onto injury.
Because there it was — on the New York Times best-seller list:
1. Frank McCourt
2. Jimmy Carter
3. Doris Kearns Goodwin
4. John Grogan
5. Thomas Friedman
But wait — that isn’t exactly right.
“I found out last night that I’m moving up to number three,” John Grogan, the Inquirer’s suburban columnist, e-mailed me the following day, when it was announced that his first book, Marley & Me: Love and Life With the World’s Worst Dog, had ascended another notch on the list.
“Jimmy Carter dropped,” he noted.
John Grogan has been at the Inquirer for just over three years now, and during that time, many of his colleagues have not particularly taken to his columns, which veer from screeds on crime and municipal issues to stories from his rather innocuous suburban life. “I always thought it was kind of, you know, cutesy-poo,” confided one Inquirer reporter, a week after Grogan wondered in print whether a group of lawyers had beamed in “from Planet Goof.”
Thus the success of the book, partially based on a series of columns Grogan wrote about his Labrador retriever, Marley, took many Inquirer staffers by surprise. It’s reasonable that a “dog book” would do well — dog lovers are known to be passionate consumers of pet-related products — but this well? A book about a freaking dog and all of a sudden this guy’s rubbing shoulders with three Pulitzer prize-winners and a former American president? And don’t even mention that this is the closest an Inquirer writer has come to a Pulitzer in years.
“We’re all like, why? How did this happen?” another reporter wailed.
Of course, they know the answer is immediate and obvious: Put a picture of a cute puppy on the cover and They Will Come. What’s painful to admit is that there’s more to it than that: Ironically, the things that annoy them about Grogan’s column are the things that have helped make Marley & Me so successful.