Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. And the way he deals with her—graciously, courageously, humorously—gives this book its strength and staying power.
Most readers might not know a lot about Tourette’s, but that doesn’t matter. Hanagarne explains it to us in vivid detail and without self-pity. The Tourette’s-driven desire to act out—physically, verbally—is as impossible to avoid as an oncoming sneeze, and the precise manner of acting out is ever evolving. “In the coming chapters, when I experience new, significant tics, I’ll say so,” he writes. “Once I’ve had a new type of tic, you can assume it stays in the rotation. Each new tic is stacked on top of what came before it.” When friend and future mentor Adam grasps the full reality of Hanagarne’s world, he asks, “How have you not gone insane?”
Tourette’s and the myriad of impacts it has had on Hanagarne’s life—he took 10 years to finish his undergraduate degree, for example, and had trouble holding down a job in his 20s—sounds like it would make for a depressing tale. But that’s not the case. I frequently found myself laughing aloud, such as when he described his first major literary crush: the gentle and maternal Fern from Charlotte’s Web. His story spills over with affection for his parents, especially his mom. He’s curious about the big questions of faith and life. And he is passionate about his chosen field.
Librarians, Hanagarne says, are rarely suited for anything else. They are the ultimate generalists. They are a quirky, caring, funny, readerly bunch whose daily business is different than readers might imagine (ever dealt with snarky teenagers in the stacks?) and whose field is on the edge of significant change. The World’s Strongest Librarian speaks to that change, joyfully celebrates books and reading, and illuminates an unlikely hero who will be remembered long after the final page is turned. I couldn’t put this book down.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE
Read our Q&A with Josh Hanagarne for The World's Strongest Librarian.
A 6'7" librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library, Hanagarne has Tourette's syndrome. Nothing helped until a former U.S. Air Force tech sergeant taught him to control his tics through strength training. Big expectations.[Page 58]. (c) Copyright 2012. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
This wildly quirky memoir of facing down his ferocious Tourette's tics follows Hanagarne, the son of a gold miner, from a bookish Mormon upbringing in Moab, Utah, to becoming a six-foot-four kettlebell-lifting librarian in Salt Lake City. First noticed by his well-meaning parents when he was in first grade, Hanagarne's tics and involuntary vocalizations grew steadily worse through adolescence, until the family finally got a diagnosis when the author was in high school, learning about Tourette's dopamine imbalances and the potential for various drugs. He began to see the dreaded condition as a kind of bodily parasite, with a separate identity he called Misty. Playing basketball and the guitar helped the rangy, overtall Hanagarne to deal with his physical itchiness; and after being forced to return early from his mission year in Washington, D.C., at age 19, when the disability nearly incapacitated him, he entered a long, restless spell of dropping out of school, sporadic employment, and periodic weight training. Hanagarne's account manages to be very gag-full and tongue-in-cheek, alternating with highly engaging current segments that take place in the urban library system where he works, besieged by noisy, importunate, rude--though mostly grateful--patrons. Moreover, the narrative is informed by Hanargarne's deep reading of Stephen King and others, and proves a testament to his changing faith, as he recounts his marriage and his wife's inability to conceive for many years, and their rejection by the Church of the Latter Day Saints for adoption. Reconciled with Tourette's, Hanagarne never let the disease get the upper hand. Agent: Lisa Dimona. (May)[Page ]. Copyright 2012 PWxyz LLC