Title: The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family
Author: Josh Hanagarne
Publisher: Gotham Books
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Review: The first time Josh Hanagarne’s parents realized they might have reason to be concerned about his behavior was when he was six. On stage during a Thanksgiving play, Hanagarne just couldn’t stop moving:
Under the bright lights, my nose, eyes, lips, and tongue contorted as if they’d seceded from my face and were involved in a game of one-upmanship. … Not only did my tics last the entire performance, they got worse the longer I was on stage.
By the time he was in high school, Hanagarne’s tics had progressed to the point of nearly constant distraction and incidents of unintentional violence. Determined to conquer what was soon diagnosed as Tourette Syndrome, Hanagarne started a series of questionable and unpleasant therapies. But it took guidance from an unlikely source — an autistic strongman and former Air Force Tech Sergeant — to help Hanagarne learn to harness his tics.
Along the way, Hanagarne fell in love and faced the prospect of infertility, completed library school, struggled with his faith and started a blog. In The World’s Strongest Librarian, Hanagarne recounts his life-long love of books and his path to learn to calm his tics and live a life he is proud of.
When I told people I was reading a memoir by a Morman weight-lifting librarian with Tourettes Syndrome, I got some pretty quizzical looks. And that’s understandable; there are a lot of ways a memoir that tells so many different stories could go awry. But Josh Hangarne isn’t tempted by any of the paths that lead memoirists astray, making The World’s Strongest Librarian one of the most engaging memoirs I’ve read in a long time.
One thing I especially loved about this memoir was Hanagarne’s voice. He has a unique way of looking at the world that I found really delightful to read. This passage, for example, just made me smile:
During the school year at the Say-Riverside library — a branch of the Salt Lake City Public Library System — at about three in the afternoon, the doors would open and a flood of kids would spill into the stacks and over the computers. Most of them got beacheds on the PCs. The rest of them would wash up on the chairs, or sometimes the floor. And then, in accordance with some occult signal, they would all start jabbering like seagulls.
Hanagarne brings this same sense of humor to writing about his faith, he and his wife’s issues with infertility, and his Tourette’s. His voice kept this memoir from being maudlin and kept me reading even when his story was difficult and sad.
Another thing I really appreciated about this story is that Hangarne recognizes that he is not the hero of this story. He admits his dark moments, the times when he was ready to give up or call it a day. He acknowledges that his parents and his family have helped guide him through difficult times with his illness. He writes with candor about the times he made bad decisions, while also quietly celebrates the times when he did the right thing. The whole memoir felt honest and humble to me, which I liked a lot.
But please don’t think this memoir is entirely serious. There are tons of fun, absurd anecdotes about Hangarne’s time as a librarian in Salt Lake City, dealing with crazy and thoughtful and off-the-wall patrons. I’m not a librarian, but those moments really did make me laugh. Plus, Hanagarne loves books as much as he loves anything, which is always a fun twist for a book lover.
The World’s Strongest Librarian is a wonderful memoir that I know I will be recommending often.
If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!