Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Book review: The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Josh Hanagarne is a librarian. And yet, when you meet him in this memoir, that seems very implausible. For one thing, he's enormous. He's 6'7" and regularly throws around enormous weights and rocks in his backyard, training in specialized programs. For another, he has Tourette's which causes him to tic and make noises seemingly contrary to the quiet of a library (although I know for a fact that most libraries these days aren't very strict with the quiet anymore. In the library where I volunteer, only the adult nonfiction section is labeled as a "quiet section" and the rest of the library is free for talking. The children's department in fact can be quite loud at times.) But that's part of what drew him to the field: the challenge. Sometimes being in a place where he can't tic, makes his Tourette's go haywire. Other times he can tamp down the symptoms temporarily, although they then come bursting out doubletime when he's out of the situation.

As you can imagine, it's not easy to grow up either as a giant or with Tourette's. Having both makes for a rough childhood, although luckily he had extra-cool parents who did their research and took him to the right doctors, but who didn't make a big deal, and made his life as normal as possible. And I give props to his schools where he seemed to experience only a small amount of teasing (perhaps his enormous height helped with that, as it's not as easy to tease someone who's looking way down on you.)

Throughout this book Josh struggles with his Mormon faith, struggles with trying to finish college (which took him about 10 years), struggles to find a girlfriend who will understand and not be bothered by his differences, and struggles to find his place in the world. He seems to feel that once he finds his place, the tics will stop, and while that's unrealistic, there are of course some situations which make them better. Reading is one of the best. He doesn't tic when he reads. Throughout the book he talks about what books he reads, what influences him, and I love how he reads so widely as a child that he reads a lot of books that boys don't normally read, like the Ramona books and Charlotte's Web.

Josh has had to overcome a great deal. He doesn't feel sorry for himself at all, even when things look pretty bleak. He does find coping methods such as weight-lifting, and he muscles his way through his issues, finding ways around them and through them. And of course books keep him company all along the way.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore, Park Road Books.

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