The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family

by Josh Hanagarne

(Gotham, $26, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

If I told you that Josh Hanagarne is a 6-foot-7-inch, 260-pound Mormon who is a weight lifter, you’d probably be impressed. And if I added that he has a serious and intractable case of Tourette’s Syndrome, a brain abnormality that causes all kinds of tics: Shouting uncontrollably or making other noises or smacking himself, you’d be horrified. But when you learn what he does for a living –  he is a librarian, of all unlikely occupations, at the Salt Lake City Public Library in Utah — you’d no doubt be mystified.

Hanagarne, who is married and has a young son who is beginning to exhibit signs of Tourette’s,  is all of these things, and he has written an inspirational memoir about his unusual life and the methods he has tried in hopes of  conqueingr his Tourette’s, including weight training, which does give him some control. He writes a blog about books and weight lifting at .

Interested in learning more? He will give a free talk on July 17 at 5 p.m. at the Center for Contemporary Culture at the Downtown Hartford Public Library, 500 Main St., Hartford.

What is this book about?

It’s the story of a very unusual life, marked by unusual problems and talents, and also a very interesting meditation on the value of libraries, then and now. Hanagarne loves books and reading and makes a passionate case for why books matter and how libraries enrich our communities and culture. His personal history – a late diagnosis of Tourette’s, although the symptoms had been present since he was 6, and years spent trying approved and quack remedies – is compelling. That he has found some relief from weight training and has also retained an impressive sense of humor is wonderful.

Here is some of what he told an Amazon interviewer:

Q: How has Tourette’s impacted your life?

Let’s get the negative out of the way: My case of Tourette’s hurts, it’s disruptive, it’s exhausting, it makes it hard to be out in public, it made me a great target for bullies, etc—Tourette’s often steals my chances to make my own first impressions. There’s this weird thing that goes out before me, announcing me, defining me, before I get the chance to explain myself. But it’s not me.

There are positives, though: Tourette’s has made me tough, stubborn, and has given me a low tolerance for whining and inertia. And it’s lead me to a lot of wonderful people in the Tourette’s community, particularly the kids who are having a tough time adjusting to the disorder.

Q: What are some of the ways you have tried to conquer your tics?

Lots of pills.  A nicotine patch. A faith healer/chiropractor in Elko, Nevada, who dressed like Randall Flagg from “The Stand” and administered to me with ramen noodle crumbs in his scraggly beard. I got botox injections in my vocal cords for two years, which took away my voice, so I couldn’t scream, but I couldn’t really talk either.

Lifting weights helped for a while, because I would train so hard that the pain of the workouts made the tics pale in comparison, but that’s a stupid way to approach a problem. I’ve also tried to stifle the tics through willpower, but that doesn’t work for long.

Ultimately, it’s come down to a grim truce. I’m still convinced I’ll get rid of Tourette’s entirely, but until then, I’ll be running on pure spite, here in the library, on full display and defiant.

Why you’ll like it:

The book is refreshingly honest, inspirational and informative, and also occasionally hilarious and/or heartbreaking. Hanagarne is an original voice, and while he cannot always control that voice in his dealings with others, he uses it beautifully when he writes about his unique situation. Here is an excerpt from his book:

“….Working in this library is the ultimate test for someone who literally can’t sit still. Who can’t shush himself. A test of willpower, of patience, and occasionally, of the limits of human absurdity.

A patron recently took exception to a series of throat clearings I couldn’t suppress. As he approached, I put on my customer service smile and readied myself for one of those rare, mind-blowing reference transactions that I hear about from other librarians. Instead this man said, “If you’re going to walk around honking like a royal swan, you don’t belong in the library. I’m going to call security. Somebody needs to teach you a lesson.”

I stood up. I’m six feet seven inches tall, and I weigh 260 pounds. “Is it you?” I’m not confrontational, but I don’t lose many staring contests. I’m good at looming when it’s helpful. He walked away.

I also work here because I love books, because I’m inveterately curious, and because, like most librarians, I’m not well suited to anything else. As a breed, we’re the ultimate generalists. I’ll never know everything about anything, but I’ll know something about almost everything and that’s how I like to live.

And here’s what he told the Amazon interviewer he hopes readers will get from his book:

I hope they’ll laugh, hug their families, use their libraries more, read more books, and ask all of those uncomfortable questions they’ve been avoiding. And then I want them to write to me and recommend a book that I should read. Anyone can send me a recommendation through my website:  www.WorldsStrongest . ”


What others are saying:

From Barnes & Noble: It is probably safe to say that Josh Hanagarne is probably the only six foot seven Mormon librarian with extreme Tourette’s who is also a proficient weightlifter. All that singularity, however, does not decrease by an iota the breadth of the appeal of this memoir, which has already been justly hailed for its “insight, humor, grace, and wonder.” Hanagarne’s account of how he bravely overcame his embarrassing Tourette’s tics with strength-training will be the draw for many readers, but with all its entertaining stories, this memoir is far more than just an inspirational tome. A Discover Great New Writers selection; an editor’s recommendation.

“Josh Hanagarne is a remarkable man…. In this moving memoir, Hanagarne shows his readers what it is like to live with a severe form of Tourette’s and how, with patience, love, and support from his family, he was able to build a rich, full life. Throughout, his optimism and amusing, self-deprecating sense of humor shine through. An excellent and uplifting story on accepting and coping with lifelong disabilities….” says Booklist.

Publishers Weekly says: “This wildly quirky memoir of facing down his ferocious Tourette’s tics follows Hanagarne, the son of a gold miner, from a bookish Mormon upbringing in Moab, Utah, to becoming a six-foot-four kettlebell-lifting librarian in Salt Lake City. …Hanagarne’s tics and involuntary vocalizations grew steadily worse through adolescence, until the family finally got a diagnosis when the author was in high school, learning about Tourette’s dopamine imbalances and the potential for various drugs. He began to see the dreaded condition as a kind of bodily parasite, with a separate identity he called Misty [for “Miss Tourette’s]. Playing basketball and the guitar helped the rangy, overtall Hanagarne to deal with his physical itchiness; and after being forced to return early from his mission year in Washington, D.C., at age 19, when the disability nearly incapacitated him, he entered a long, restless spell of dropping out of school, sporadic employment, and periodic weight training. Hanagarne’s account manages to be very gag-full and tongue-in-cheek, alternating with highly engaging current segments that take place in the urban library system where he works, besieged by noisy, importunate, rude—though mostly grateful—patrons. Moreover, the narrative is informed by Hanargarne’s deep reading of Stephen King and others, and proves a testament to his changing faith, as he recounts his marriage and his wife’s inability to conceive for many years, and their rejection by the Church of the Latter Day Saints for adoption. Reconciled with Tourette’s, Hanagarne never let the disease get the upper hand. “

Kirkus Reviews says: “A jaunty memoir covering both the influence of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the torments of Tourette’s syndrome….. His love of reading–boys’ books, girls’ books, the complete works of Stephen King or Agatha Christie, among many others–provided refuge from the taunts of schoolmates, and that love has abided. His day job is appropriate: He is a librarian at Salt Lake City’s public library, where Misty has little influence. Hanagarne is quite passionate about libraries, expressing more enthusiasm on the subject than he does on his relationship to his church. Mormon missionary work and higher education did not fit well with the recurring spasms; fitness training helped some. Even better was his marriage, an especially important part of the Mormon way of life. …Filled with patently imaginary discourse, clever invented conversation and just a hint of the inspirational, this text on how the writer copes is surprisingly amiable. Along the way, readers will learn about the workings of LDS ministration and a puzzling physical disorder. A clever, affable story of one Mormon, his family, his vocation and his implacable ailment.”

When is it available?

This book by a librarian is now waiting for readers at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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