May 2013

Strongman in the stacks

By Josh Hanagarne
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Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. And the way he deals with her—graciously, courageously, humorously—gives this book its strength and staying power.

Most readers might not know a lot about Tourette’s, but that doesn’t matter. Hanagarne explains it to us in vivid detail and without self-pity. The Tourette’s-driven desire to act out—physically, verbally—is as impossible to avoid as an oncoming sneeze, and the precise manner of acting out is ever evolving. “In the coming chapters, when I experience new, significant tics, I’ll say so,” he writes. “Once I’ve had a new type of tic, you can assume it stays in the rotation. Each new tic is stacked on top of what came before it.” When friend and future mentor Adam grasps the full reality of Hanagarne’s world, he asks, “How have you not gone insane?”

Tourette’s and the myriad of impacts it has had on Hanagarne’s life—he took 10 years to finish his undergraduate degree, for example, and had trouble holding down a job in his 20s—sounds like it would make for a depressing tale. But that’s not the case. I frequently found myself laughing aloud, such as when he described his first major literary crush: the gentle and maternal Fern from Charlotte’s Web. His story spills over with affection for his parents, especially his mom. He’s curious about the big questions of faith and life. And he is passionate about his chosen field.

Librarians, Hanagarne says, are rarely suited for anything else. They are the ultimate generalists. They are a quirky, caring, funny, readerly bunch whose daily business is different than readers might imagine (ever dealt with snarky teenagers in the stacks?) and whose field is on the edge of significant change. The World’s Strongest Librarian speaks to that change, joyfully celebrates books and reading, and illuminates an unlikely hero who will be remembered long after the final page is turned. I couldn’t put this book down.

Read our Q&A with Josh Hanagarne for The World's Strongest Librarian.

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