The World’s Strongest Librarian, a memoir of tourette’s, faith, strength, and the power of family by Josh Hanagarne is the true story of a comically tall librarian who can’t stay quiet. Or still. Or not-funny. Josh has Tourette’s, lifts weights, grapples with his faith, and tries to stay sane while working in an urban public library. These combined to make the most laugh-out-loud funny memoir I have read since Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka, It’s me, Chelsea and Tina Fey’s Bossypants. And this guy isn’t a celebrity, he’s just a regular dude, which makes this story all the more relate-able.
Josh is my kind of librarian. His experiences in the Salt Lake City Public Library are both cringe-worthy and hilarious, For example,
The public restrooms at my library are vile. Every minute someone’s in there relieving himself or bathing in the sink. The air doesn’t circulate and the stench is palpable. But they have nothing on the teen section. To walk through the young adult area is to traverse a cloud of hormones and poor hygiene and lust and anger that’s as real as a thicket of skunky roadkill. Whenever the teenagers are quiet, I assume it’s because they’re impregnating each other on the library furniture.
Seriously…and the whole book is like that! I wasn’t even 11 pages in and my coworker Dan said, “Are you just going to read me the entire book?” (Okay he didn’t say that out loud, because he’s a gentleman, but I know it’s what he was thinking after I’d read him yet another line.) My mom – who I was traveling to Rhode Island with for a wedding – knew I had finished the book because I wasn’t laughing anymore. (I had moved onto The Shining Girls…a very not-funny book.)
The pages he dedicates to librarianship are passionate as well. Surrogate-parenting of tweens and teens dropped off at the library for an entire day pains me personally and professionally. I want to hug them and feed them, but I also want to chastise the teens for gaming all day and being loud and rowdy. I don’t want adults to fear the teens who loiter at the library for hours on end, but I also want the teens to be comfortable spending time here. it’s a conundrum that even Josh answers with “I don’t know.” The struggle continues, but I appreciate what he wrote, and hope that his non-librarian readers take note.
The part of the book that was most educating for me was his experience with Tourette’s. I’ve never known anyone with the syndrome, or read about it. I find it fascinating that Josh learned to partially control his Tourette’s with weight lifting.
I might be the only person whose first three-hundred pound bench press was accompanied by the Recorded Books version of Don Quixote.
The way he wrote about his gym sessions made me reflect on my own 4-day a week sessions with pity. (I can walk after my leg workouts. Clearly I’m doing something wrong.) I’ve read other fitness memoirs, and this was just as good in that he didn’t use language I didn’t understand (or couldn’t figure out after a quick Google search).
Josh didn’t exhaust discussion of one element from the title (Tourette’s, faith, strength, family, librarianship). Instead he gave each their allotted amount of time and respect, which kept me reading all through the 8-hour drive to Providence. I don’t think I paused once in Connecticut. I have recommended this book to fellow librarians, and also a Page who is leaving in a couple weeks for his own Mission trip (Josh’s re-telling of his own was heart-breaking, but an interesting glimpse into the life of a young Mormon for those of us non-Mormons). But this book would definitely appeal to non-librarians as well!
As I wrote earlier, Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka, It’s me, Chelsea and Tina Fey’s Bossypants are similar in that they are not exhaustive of one element of their lives (acting, relationships, family), but all-inclusive and never boring. Both are read by the author, making the audiobooks that much better.
The following image is of a sculpture hanging in the SLCPL, titled Psyche. It is 1,500 books and 850 butterflies made the look like a human head. In Greek, the word psyche means mind and butterfly. Some of the butterflies have writing on them, in 20 different languages, including phrases from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I just love this.
To see the value of a library, ignore the adults. Find an inquisitive child who doesn’t have an iPhone yet, take them to the library, and tell them that they can learn anything they want there.