Sunday, June 16, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian

I don't remember where I heard about Josh Hanagarne's book, The World's Strongest Librarian, but it piqued my interest: a Mormon librarian, who lifts weights and has Tourette Syndrome.

My quick assessment? Hanagarne's memoir gets a solid thumbs up. It was well-written and interesting, and made me care about Hanagarne and his family. In the process, I learned a little about about life with Tourette's.

Hanagarne's memoir mixes stories from his job as a librarian with stories of his life: his loving parents; his efforts to control his Tourette's; his experiences as a Mormon missionary; his strength training; his repeatedly interrupted university studies; his search for his place in this world.

I was a bit worried about the Mormon aspects of Josh's life. I remembered from the review I'd heard that he is no longer active in the LDS church, and I worried that the book would have an anti-Mormon slant. But this wasn't the case at all. As he wrote about his life, his church participation was a part of that life, and he wrote positively about those experiences. Ultimately, he simply didn't have the same belief and knowledge as his family, and so stepped back. He wrote
When people tell me. . . that the church is a controlling, greedy, sinister monster that's only interested in brainwashing people and subjugating women, I say, "I don't know that church, but I can understand why you'd have a problem with the church's history." I know happy, generous people. I know my compassionate bishop. I don't see rubes and sheep. I'm way too ignorant and fallible and unsure to sneer at other people who are just trying to live the best way they know how. I see people who want the world to be better than it is and who are willing to work for it.

I just can't work at it in the same way they do anymore. I can't trust my emotions as confidently as they trust theirs. . . If there's a personal God, I have to believe that he knows my heart, and why I have to do what I'm doing right now. Why I have to live according to what makes sense to me, and not according to what is sacred to others.
Hanagarne eventually becomes a librarian, and writes eloquently about the need for and benefits from libraries (he works at the Salt Lake City Public Library). Talking about patrons of different classes and races and such, and how they struggle to get along, he writes
 . . . while we may never find specific, actionable solutions, a good library's existence is a potential step forward for a community. 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 about the world.
He sees libraries, and the items that circulate from libraries, as leading
to members of the community gathering in the same place. People who might never lay eyes on one another elsewhere. In this digital era when human contact sometimes feels quaint to me, this is significant. If libraries themselves become quaint because they house physical objects and require personal interaction at times, so be it. For that reason, I believe physical libraries always need to exist in some form.
What I liked most about this memoir, I think, is that it seems so honest. Hanagarne is simply a nice guy, with a terrible affliction. He never really overcomes his Tourette's, but he finds peace in his life just the same. At one point, he talks about what he'll tell his son about his attitude toward the church. It comes across a recap of what really matters to him - and Tourette's is not a part of that recap:
What I'll tell Max is that I love his mom, his grandparents, and his aunts and uncles and cousins more than anything. I'll tell him that they are my life, and they are a life worth living. When he asks what I believe, I'll tell him that I do believe in many of the tenets of the church:

Be kind and compassionate.

Serve others.

You are responsible for your actions and should be accountable for them, if only to yourself. . . .

Don't lie, kill, steal, or cheat.

Family is the greatest joy on earth.

Study the best books.

Be accountable to yourself. . . .

I'll tell him that I was the luckiest, happiest kid in the world. I will tell him that there are no words I can use to describe how much I love my parents, and how grateful I will always be for them.
Go find yourself a copy of his book, and enjoy!


  1. Wow! Great review. I hope it's at my local library... ;-)

    1. I borrowed my copy from our library... ;-)