The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Posted April 18, 2013 by Lisa Mandina in / 0 Comments

I am grateful to Gotham Books, part of Penguin Publishing for allowing me to get an advance copy of this book through a contest in the Shelf Awareness daily email newsletter.  It’s been a while since I’ve read a memoir, but this one reminded me why I went through the phase a few years ago where I read a ton of them.    This was amazing!  I was so hooked from the minute I picked it up.  My first connection was with the author, Josh Hanagarne’s, library job.  It was very similar to being a bookseller in the stories he told of their patrons compared to our customers.  I was afraid at first that I might have trouble getting into a story of someone with Tourette’s, not to mention someone of the Mormon faith.  Now wait, I have no problems with those things!  I’m just saying that I often prefer to read books where I feel a connection with the main character/author.  But he drew me in right away with the library anecdotes.  From there on, I was very intrigued by the peek I got into the Mormon faith.  Not to mention as I don’t know much about Tourette Syndrome, and as a teacher there is always a possibility I may one day get a student with that.  So all in all it was so interesting.
Each chapter began by listing a Dewey Decimal Classification number, such as 011.62, and then the subject it refers to, Children – Books and Reading.  This first one goes with the first chapter, as we get to start with the author even before his birth, learning about his parents, and what he’s learned from them about his early years.  Hearing how his love of reading began, I’m sure my early years were somewhat similar, as my dad has told me stories of how he basically taught me to read on my own at the age of 3.  I seriously can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love books. Even in college, when I didn’t really have much time to read for fun, and I didn’t really WANT to read the textbooks, I loved getting books, looked forward to when I got them each semester.  I’ve never understood the whole “smell” of books thing.  If there is a smell, it is a subconscious one for me.  I also just adored his parents.  If I didn’t already love my own parents as much as I did, I think I’d want to be raised by Hanagarne’s parents.  I loved the way they dealt with everything, and especially his Tourette’s.  The fact that they didn’t want to make a big deal of it, that he would then always think he couldn’t do things because of it, is just wow.  I think of so many students I have that if only they were given that message, maybe they would try so much harder.  And in my classroom I try to treat them that way.
I must say after hearing about how he was raised in the Mormon faith, I am a bit intrigued in learning more about the faith.  No, nothing to do with the polygamy stuff, but the other stuff.  The way it works, how they do certain things at certain times in their lives, all of it sounds pretty incredible.  I remember watching one season of MTV’s The Real World, and one of the cast members, Chet Cannon, being a Mormon.  The type of person he was, well, he also really made me more interested in learning about that religion.
As we get into the part where he is really beginning to know just how severe his Tourette’s is going to be, it just was so painful to read.  Mostly what I knew, and probably a majority of people without any experience with this condition know, is of  people on tv shows that blurt out inappropriate words and stuff without control.  I didn’t realize it could be so bad that they hit themselves, in the face.  That at times it was so hard to control, it was hard for him to find a job, as his hands would move towards sharp machines that would have chopped off whatever got in the way, and he could barely control it.  His father was great to try to help him with this.  This is where the “strongest” part of the title comes in.  He taught his son to weight lift.  To make his body stronger.  Doing this was a big help at first.  It sounds like just the effort of putting his body through these stresses helped to tire it out so that the tics wouldn’t occur as much.  Later in life though, once he was happily married, and after many stresses with trying to have children, finally had a son, the tics seemed to come back even worse.  And it was at this point that he got help from a fitness guru.  This guy was a strange duck!  But believe it or not, he did help.  While Hanagarne didn’t know for sure just how much, he soon figured it out on his own.
Of course the author is still pretty young, about my brother’s age, and so his life is still going.  We end the book on a pretty positive note.  He is still working on the things that help him to control his Tourette Syndrome, while raising his son, and hoping that his son will not end up suffering the way he has with it.  It is also his questioning of his faith as he’s gotten older that I really related to as well.  I currently have a lot of questions about faith.  But because, like Hanagarne, I was kind of raised with the church so much a part of my life, it’s always in the back of my head.  He explains the way I feel so perfectly, that I can’t even summarize it any better than he says in the book.
Now, because I marked a few parts in the book that I really wanted to talk about, I’ll go over those next.  One thing is where he is talking about going to the big kettlebell convention and how he sells his 29 Volume Mark Twain set in order to afford to go.  He talks about being susceptible to advertising.  I am soooo like that, I often tell myself how I am an advertiser’s dream! (Only I say about a more specific type of dream that is probably inappropriate for me to say on my blog).  Commercials on tv make me want to go to certain restaurants or buy new products at the grocery store with hardly any pressure.  Even just a funny one can make me more positive towards a specific brand.  Another part, when he’s talking to his mother about his faith issues, I love that she references the grandma from Flowers in the Attic.  Things like that, books I’ve read, tv shows I’ve seen or know about, movies I’ve seen or know about, I’m a pop culture junkie, and those are the things that strike a chord with me.
If you have a chance to read this book, do.  If you know someone with Tourette’s, give them this book, it’s such a good book.  I don’t know if I can recommend it enough.  If you’re a librarian, you’ll love all the anecdotes in the story.  I now want to go visit the library where he works just because of how beautiful it sounds from his descriptions.  As a teacher, I love what he says about getting the kids in and interested.  And when he talks about the age when the kids start being “too cool” to act like they enjoy the library?  I’m seeing that with my middle school kids.  And that is where I really love when I can hook those kids back in.  Having them come back to tell me what they’re reading, and how excited they are just warms my heart.  And when a parent thanks me for getting their kid to read after they’ve struggled with it, well that is one of the things that keeps me going when I have as horrible of school years as this has been.
I cannot say enough good things about this book.  In fact I have another author that I just really, really hope to have a chance to meet some day.  Just go, read it now!  đź™‚

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