With wry humor and clear-eyed optimism, librarian Josh Hanagarne shares his beautiful, unique, difficult and lovely memoir of life with Tourette’s Syndrome in his book The World’s Strongest Librarian. I feel like some disclaimer is in order—yes, he’s a librarian, I’m a librarian—but despite my natural sympathies for the breed, I swear I would have enjoyed this book anyway. I have no particular liking for weightlifters, after all, (no offense intended) and yet I hung on every word in those sections of the book as well.
Hanagarne's memoir is peppered with amusing commentary from the present, where he works at the Salt Lake City Public Library, but it starts back when he was a little kid with a huge love of books. His Tourette’s first announced itself during the first grade Thanksgiving pageant where Hanagarne's efforts to act like a tree were undermined by constant and worsening facial tics. His childhood was defined by his loving and supportive parents, his love of reading, his family’s Mormon faith, and his Tourette’s Syndrome. These threads stayed with him, to be joined by the desire for his own family, and his own place in the world—which is where weightlifting, libraries, and now writing fit in. His journey is both unusual in its details and familiar in its trajectory, so one can empathize and also marvel.
One thing I find fascinating about Hanagarne’s story is the way his family dealt with his condition on their own terms, and how that influenced his experience and his eventual adult choices. The other thing I love is the happy ending—well, there’s no ending, in the sense that Hanagarne is alive and well and currently enjoying his success as an author. But the memoir follows him through some difficult and even suicidal periods, when everything seemed grim—tics getting so bad he couldn’t eat, being too ‘weird’ to find love, not being able to hold down a job or stick with school due to periodic flare-ups—and yet, he pushed on, to greater control, greater understanding, and a good life of his own.
Hanagarne’s blog, established in 2009, is at http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/.