June 28, 2013

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne


I received a review copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. 

Description: An inspiring story of how a Mormon kid with Tourette’s found salvation in books and weight-lifting. Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living.

My Review: This is a book that I knew I’d have to pick up after originally seeing an ad for it in Book Page magazine. Then I started reading rave reviews, so I was excited to receive a review copy myself. 

Of course, being a librarian, I loved reading all of the stories about the strange and interesting situations Hanagarne encountered at work as well as his childhood memories about his love of books and reading. The Dewey Decimal classification subject headings at the beginning of each chapter were a nice touch! Beyond that, I was fascinated by the author’s experiences with Tourette’s and how it affected his education, career, faith, and family relationships. Hanagarne didn’t sugarcoat anything—he discussed the intimate details of his struggles and how he overcame some incredible difficulties to start a family and a career. At the same time, though, he maintained his sense of humor which made this book an entertaining, engaging read. 

A few of my favorite lines about librarianship: 

"I might be the only person whose first three-hundred-pound bench press was accompanied by the Recorded Press production of Don Quixote." 

"I loved my job from the beginning, although any romantic notions of being a purveyor of knowledge were soon interred beneath the duties of community council meetings, monitoring of the mentally ill, surrogate parenting, gang and drug activity tracking, and the myriad other realities of being a librarian (at least in this library) today." 

"If hate and fear have ignorance at their core, maybe the library can curb their effects, if only by offering ideas and neutrality. It's a safe place to explore, to meet with other minds, to touch other centuries, religions, races, and learn what you truly think of the world." 

"To see the value of a library, ignore the adults. Find an inquisitive child who doesn't have an iPhone yet, and tell them that they can learn anything they want here." 

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