Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

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.

My Review:

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.
I was in Salt Lake City for a trip 2.5 years ago, and I am TOTALLY BUMMED that I did not know about this place then.)

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
Bookin' It

Have you read any great memoirs lately?


  1. I really liked your review and I think I would give that book a try! Thank you for the awesome pic of that library btw!

    1. You're welcome--you should Google some others, the place is beautiful inside and out.

  2. "You'll laugh! You'll cry!" <~~ It IS true! Oh my word, that library!! Stunning. I'm so glad that you liked this one as much as I did Kelly!

    1. Me too! Your review definitely solidified my decision to read this one.

  3. This was SUCH a great book! I read it last week and have my review scheduled to post on Thursday this week, so I feel like I can actually read some reviews now. I was going to write about the infertility section, but just couldn't. It had me in tears (I could relate; hubby and I were married 8 years before finally having our daughter). I tweeted about that and Josh tweeted back, "it gets pretty cheery from then on!" :)

    He really does come across first-name basis, doesn't he? (Though I chickened out in my review and used his last name haha)

    I'm glad you liked this one, too! It was just wonderful! (And I LOVE HIS MOM!)

    1. The infertility section could definitely be a trigger for anyone who's gone through it. I was so impressed at the way he tackled that part. Really, really heartbreaking (but with a happy ending, thankfully).

      And YES to his mom!! Both of his parents seem so awesome.

  4. I have this one to read from NetGalley, but haven't started it yet. Glad to know it's so good! I just read With or Without You by Domenica Ruta about growing up with a high-functioning drug addict as a mother, which was pretty engrossing.

    1. Oooh that one does sound interesting. I'll check it out! Thanks for the tip.

  5. Everyone is saying such great things about this book! I might have to add it to my ever-growing list.

    1. It's totally worth it. I think book bloggers are an especially good audience for it. He's a voracious reader!

  6. That's the library he works in? Wow. I'm interested in this book already (the list of subjects, as you've said, unique) but I love how you've detailed why you're calling him Josh. I tend to use just the surnames, and know what you mean, the author feels like a friend and it's a great recommendation for the book. It does sound as if it could have used some more insight about the pregnancy. Wonder if that's a story he might tell in an article later (thinking that sort of thing happens, gaps filled by articles).

    1. He also has his own blog, which I haven't checked out yet, so I wonder if I might find more there.

  7. That library is beautiful!!

  8. A friend of mine has recommended this book. I wanted to find a review before I read it. It looks like a winner! I have been in that library in SLC.... I got lost. It was beautiful! Thanks for all the comments on the book. Another heartwarming memoir is called, "Ring EXchange - Adventures of a Multiple Marrier" by author Pam Evans. It is refreshingly honest, humorous, and has a heartfelt message for readers. LOVED IT!

    1. Thanks for the heads up! I will check that one out.

  9. You make this sound positively DELICIOUS. Between you and Jen, I clearly need to get to reading this!

    1. It is totally delish, especially for book bloggers. You would LOVE it!

  10. I've seen so many reviews of this book, but I had no idea that the author had been a librarian at the Salt Lake Library! It's my local library and I love going there :) Awesome review. I can't wait to read this!

    1. I *think* he might still work there. You should find him!! :)

  11. wowee, what an amazing library. Sounds like a great book, thanks for the recommendation! Going to add it to my list of nonfiction to read.

    1. Isn't it gorgeous?? I am jealous of the SLC residents that get to use it!

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