The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir by Josh Hanagarne

ImageThis book was recommended on a few blogs I like, and while it’s not my usual kind of read, I’m always looking for interesting non-fiction to broaden my horizons.

Librarian is Hanagarne’s memoir, and it’s basically about four aspects of his life: his career as a librarian, his faith as a Mormon, his passion for weight-lifting, and his struggle with Tourette’s Syndrome.

It took me a little while to get into this book.  Hanagarne’s early childhood and the background of his parents isn’t all that interesting, but as he grows older and explains his struggle with Tourette’s, and his upbringing in the Mormon Church, my interest grew.

It won’t surprise you to know that I was most interested in his life as a librarian.  No one writes about what it’s like to be a librarian, and Hanagarne writes with wit and humor about the many roles a library plays in the community.  It’s not just a place to read, it’s a place for teenagers to make out, for parents to use computers, and for the homeless to sleep.  But still, there are books there too.

Hanagarne’s love of books really shines through in this memoir, including his infatuation with Stephen King novels as a child, which I could totally relate to.

Libraries have shaped and linked all the disparate threads of my life.  The books.  The weights.  The tics.  The harm I’ve caused myself and others.  Even the very fact that I’m alive.  How I handle my Tourette’s.  Everything I know about my identity can be traced back to the boy whose parents took him to a library in New Mexico even before he was born.

The library taught me that I could ask any questions I wanted and pursue them to their conclusions without judgment or embarrassment.

And it’s where I learned that not all questions have answers.

Being a librarian is one of my top ten jobs I would love to have if education, income, and job availability weren’t factors (others include bookstore owner, editor, or lit professor).  The library was my “happy place” as a child, and I still feel that way today even though I don’t borrow books any more.

But there’s a lot more to this book than reading and libraries, so I don’t want to give you the wrong impression.  I was fascinated to read Hanagarne’s experience of going on a mission when he turns nineteen.  Everything I know about missions comes from the musical The Book of Mormon, which was amazing and hilarious, but I’m not going to take it as fact.  So Hanagarne’s story is a window into a religion very different from my own.  He’s very honest about his doubts which I appreciated.

I’d say most of the book is about his struggles with Tourette’s, which impacts every other facet of his life.  It’s always helpful to get an inside view of a disability you know little about.  Tourette’s isn’t just about swearing.  Hanagarne has to deal with involuntary grunting and yelling, muscle movements, and even hitting and scratching himself.  The disease is devastating and his efforts to control it and live his life will definitely inspire you.

I was particularly interested in his efforts to control Tourette’s through deep breathing, since a lot of yoga and meditation is based on the same principles.  I suspect there’s a lot in breathing that most of us don’t tap into.

I’d describe Hanagarne’s writing as down-to-earth, by which I mean it’s not written in a very artful way but it does seem honest and written from the heart.  His blog can be found here.

Overall, I found his story interesting and inspiring, particularly because he goes from being barely able to keep a job, to working in a place he loves.  If you enjoy memoirs, I recommend this book.

  6 comments for “The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir by Josh Hanagarne

  1. October 13, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    Deb, this one sounds a fascinating read. Hope you bring it on over to the Books You Loved collection over at Carole’s Chatter

  2. October 14, 2013 at 11:00 pm

    I can’t tell you how much I adored this book 🙂 I’m super glad that you enjoyed it!

  3. October 17, 2013 at 8:20 am

    I loved this book too!

  4. October 20, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    There seems to be a whole slew of books that are at least moderately related to Mormonism right now. I didn’t know that this one could be added to the list as well. It is on my TBR pile, or more accurately my TB listened to pile. And you have peaked my interest even more.

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