Title: The World's Strongest Librarian
Author: Josh Hanagarne
Publisher: Gotham Books
Publication Date: May 2, 2013
Source: e-ARC received from publisher for an honest review
Plot Summary from Goodreads:
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.
What's the recipe for an immediately intriguing book description? As the lovely Jen pointed out, it's a memoir that includes libraries, Tourette Syndrome, weightlifting, and Mormonism. Readers, it does not get more unique than that. Color me interested.
Josh Hanagarne has a one-of-a-kind story, and he knows how to tell it. Each chapter begins with an interesting (and often hilarious) anectode about his time as a librarian with the Salt Lake City Public Library. His stories will have you alternately astounded (at the crazy things people will do in a public place) and sad (at the unfortunate circumstances that often lead people there).
(And before I go further, have you ever SEEN this library? Feast your eyes on this amazingness:
|HOLD THE PHONE. It's like Book Nirvana up in hurrr.|
Okay, bookish drooling time is over. Onward!
After each library anecdote, Josh (yes, we're on a first name basis...the tone of his novel makes me feel that way, and I'm okay with it) recounts part of his personal journey, from early childhood through the present. Most notable was his ability to delve so deeply into powerful reservoirs of frustration and grief, while also managing to keep a laugh-out-loud sense of humor. I know, I sound like a cheesy movie tagline ("You'll laugh! You'll cry!"), but it's TRUE. There were several times, in the midst of a very serious part of the story, when I encountered an unexpected joke or one-liner that left me giggling through the tears. If anything, this makes Josh's story that much more inspiring. He always sees some fun in life, even when it's trying to get him down.
This is not just a memoir about Tourette's. The affliction obviously affects all areas of his life, but his ability to describe his other conflicts and doubts was equally impressive. I was particularly moved by his description of his struggles as a teenager--all of the emotions that are wrapped up in maturing (mentally and physically), first dates, etc. In this way, Hanagarne crafts a story that has a universal message for everyone. I don't have Tourette's, I'm not a Mormon, I'm not a 6+ foot-tall weightlifter. But I still found myself relating to pieces of his life as it was unveiled.
The only part of Josh's story that I would have loved to hear more about was his wife's pregnancy with Max. They went through years of infertility, and I was completely absorbed in this part of his story--he writes it with heartbreaking emotion, and I think a lot of couples will find both common ground and solace in it. However, once his wife got pregnant, the story suddenly jumped to Max's birth and childhood. After hearing so much about their infertility struggles, I guess I was left wanting to experience the pregnancy with them as well. Maybe that's just me being a sappy girl, but it was the only point in the memoir where I felt like I wanted a little more.
As I read the last word of this memoir, all I could do was close my eyes like a happy, contented reader and think, "Yes." It wraps up at a perfect point, in a way that leaves you feeling both curious and hopeful.
I can't recommend this book enough. Josh Hanagarne has a poignant and humorous way of relating his story that makes it reachable for any reader. I learned a lot, I laughed a lot, and I was rooting for him at every turn. I know I'm on a memoir kick this week, but trust me--if you're in the market for one, this is an awesome pick!
Other reviews of The World's Strongest Librarian:
The Relentless Reader
As The Page Turns
Have you read any great memoirs lately?