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Thursday, July 04, 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

I recently read a review of The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family that convinced me that this was the kind of book that I loved. And, on the surface, it really is. A combination of things that fascinate me- libraries and books, faith, and personal experience with something that makes him different, in this case, Tourette Syndrome. I happened to see it on my library shelf shortly thereafter and picked it up.  I mentioned recently that I’ve been doing a large portion of my reading on the Nook lately, but I realized there was no point in having all these paper books checked out if I wasn’t going to make the effort to read them so despite reading a truly excellent e-book during the day, I started reading this one at home.

Hanagarne has an easy, conversational style. His  book started with a blog (doesn’t every memoir?) and that writing style carries over.  The book is laid out chronologically, starting with his childhood and continuing on into his marriage and late start career. This is the first thing I’ve really read about Tourette’s. My idea of it was mainly of people yelling out curse words, but of course it’s much more than that. Hanagarne tries to describe what the tics are like, and how debilitating it makes his life, but I am not 100% convinced that he does a good job of it. He spends a page saying that he can’t fill the book with every tic, that we just have to imagine adding on to what he’s already said when he mentions something new.  Much of his life in his 20s is lost to the tics, and he enters and withdraws from college a dozen times. His mission trip is cut short because of their severity.  He tells us these things, but it’s not very powerful to read them.  I feel like his descriptions are a bit lacking, that what he’s said about the tics themselves and their impact on him don’t actually match up.

I had a similar response to his writing about faith. Hanagarne is a Mormon. He does an excellent job explaining specific aspects of his faith and what it entails. He writes a very powerful scene about accepting God in college, but then he kind of backs off both in his belief and in his writing about it. When his struggles with Tourette’s and his and his wife’s inability to have a child overwhelm him, he questions God, but only in the mildest of ways. It felt to me like he’s pulling his punches, that he doesn’t want to offend any of his readers, trying to keep both the religious readers and the ones who don’t care to read about religious struggles. By the end he's honest with the reader, and I can see that perhaps the uninspired writing comes from his apathy towards God, but it made for pretty boring reading, for me.

As an adult, Hanagarne falls into weight lifting as a method of controlling his tics.  He does traditional lifting before moving onto kettleballs and then spends an entire chapter talking about this strange individual who is not a trainer nor doctor nor really a friend who offers opaque advice and waits for Hanagarne to figure it out.  Ultimately, he learns that he can control his tics with breathing (until he can't), but the book really bogs down while he’s figuring it out. He could have cut out 90% of the chapter about the other guy and not lost a thing. I find his dedication to the task remarkably impressive, as well as his recall of the process (I’m guessing the blog helps), but he didn’t need to relive entire conversations.

As a whole, I found the book to be mild. Mildly interesting, mildly informative, mildly forgettable. That said- I checked out his blog while writing this, and find it to be much more interesting. In fact, it's the first new addition I've made to Feedly, now that Google Reader is gone.


  1. I had high hopes for this one so I'm disappointed to see you didn't love it.

  2. I've been ping-ponging back and forth about this one. I think it'd only be "meh" for me, but we'll see if I ever get to it.

  3. I didn't realize he was Mormon. I totally understand the apathy or the unwillingness to step on toes or offend. I feel this way all the time when it comes to the religion. Bummer this one wasn't better!


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