I need to come right out and say that I’m biased about this book. I am friends with the author, and to see his work in print through a major publishing company, finally, is really like Christmas morning. I’m sure he feels that much more so than I do.
The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family (2013) by Josh Hanagarne is the book I’m talking about. I spent some three years working with Josh’s wife, and when I left my editing job, she was promoted to that position. Before that, we were both secretaries, and we spent hours sitting in the same reception area chatting, working, laughing, and sometimes crying together. I met Josh because of her, and when he realized that I loved to read as much as he did, he began giving me suggestions and he began sharing his writing with me. He is a fantastic writer, and I think his dream has always been to write a novel, but his first book is a memoir because his life is much more interesting than any novel!
Josh has Tourette Syndrome, and it has, obviously, been a challenge for him, and for his wife, Janette. The book talks of their darkest days in hoping to have a baby and suffering through many miscarriages. They decide to adopt and are rejected as candidates! This broke my heart all over again, although I knew most of this story before reading it. I know how much Janette wanted to be a mother, and I could feel her pain through Josh’s narrative of those tough experiences.
The most interesting parts of the book, to me, were Josh’s experiences as a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library. He describes the funny and disturbing things that have happened in the downtown branch of the library and how he deals with those situations. Josh is funny, so his reaction or thoughts on some of the interesting patrons is hilarious. I laughed out loud while I read the book. My outbursts would prompt questions from my husband, and I would have to read the part to him. We would then laugh together. Josh is a skilled storyteller, and some of his best stories in the book are his experiences as a librarian. Sometimes those experiences occur because of his noisy Tourette’s in a library, but sometimes they are the results of patrons with interesting ideas or actions, including hiding library books, demanding that religious books be moved to the fiction section, and dropping their children off for the day as if the library is a daycare.
I also appreciated Josh’s candor about his faith. He describes his lifelong struggle with belief and how faith and reason seem to be so opposed to one another for him. Josh is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as I am, and he struggles with knowing what is true. Part of this struggle occurred on his mission to the Washington DC area (the same place my husband served a mission for our church), and he began to see a worsening of his Tourette’s symptoms, even to the point of punching himself in the face and being unable to keep down food. He returned home early because of these health problems.
I empathize with Josh. I too have moments of doubt. Don’t we all? I find that faith is something I must work at, and instead of focusing on the many mysteries that I can’t make sense of or find the answers to, I must cling to what I do believe and what I can find comfort in. Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in our church, said, “Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.”
Despite doubts, Josh shares many of the beautiful spiritual experiences he has had, including feeling peace come over him in a dark time of trouble and angst. I, too, have felt that peace, after months of praying and pleading and worrying about a problem that I had no power to fix. That peace continues to keep me going when this problem resurfaces or becomes more apparent to me. I remember that feeling of peace and anxiety leaves me; I am able to move on and just do my best.
Josh worried what his faithful (and wonderful) mother would think of his doubts. He did not want to tell her. But when he did, she listened and understood. She told him that the older she gets, the more she realizes that everybody has to journey in their own way. This is a lesson I’ve also learned, that we cannot force others to do things “our” way or what we think is the “right” way. We must instead focus on our own issues and challenges and do our best to love and help others without being forceful or judgmental.
I loved this book. Josh asked his friends to be honest in their assessments of it. He warned us not to give it five stars on Goodreads (as I did) if we did not really think that it deserved those stars. Unfortunately, I can’t tell if I did so because I wanted to help Josh, because I like Josh and Janette so much that their story was fascinating to me, or if I am just plain biased. Whatever the case, I enthusiastically recommend this book to you. I will warn that there is some strong language in the book, as I know this is a concern for some of my readers.
Why is Josh the world’s strongest librarian? Well, it’s because he has found that strength training helps with his Tourette’s symptoms. He does kettlebell training, and even participated in some Scottish highland games. Josh stands at 6’7” and works hard physically to manage his symptoms. More of how he does this is explicated in the book.
Josh is also a voracious reader, which is partly why being a librarian appealed to him so much. His favorite author is Mark Twain, but he also loves Stephen King. (I’ve written about my first two experiences with reading King’s work here and here.) The story about his mom realizing that he had been reading King’s novels in fourth grade is hilarious! Because of his passion for books, Josh mentions many great titles in the memoir. I will share all of the titles with you in my post on Friday, May 10.
I will also announce the winner of a giveaway I’m hosting. It is open to residents of the United States and Canada. If you’d like to win a copy of Josh’s book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, please enter the contest by clicking here: The World’s Strongest Librarian Book Giveaway. (The giveaway is CLOSED.)
If you’d like to check out Josh’s blog, click here: World’s Strongest Librarian. It includes updates on his book tour. Maybe he’ll visit a city near you.