Friday, May 17, 2013

Review - The World's Strongest Librarian

I (and almost everyone there) grabbed this advanced copy at ALA Midwinter because we're all librarians and suckers for books about our kind. However I think there is plenty here to charm the non-librarian as well.

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagrne. Published May 2013 by Gotham Books. 288 pages.

Bottom Line: Highly recommended for all libraries to own (duh) and for readers of memoir and inspirational stories and humor.

Josh Hanagarne is a librarian. He's also 6'7", weight trains, and has spent a lifetime coping with Tourette's. And for what it is worth, he was raised as a Mormon. He blogs at

There is a lot here, a lot of really great stuff. We meet Josh's family, get an introduction to Mormonism, watch as his Tourette's becomes more pronounced, and see him find his way through the world.

I love memoir, especially the non-celebrity kind, but a lot of it seems to dwell in the world of the sensational or horrific, exploiting the love of humans to stare at a train wreck. (Think about The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls or Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs.) Those books are great and have a wonderful place on our shelves, but a book like this stands as a welcome contrast.

Even at the lowest point of this story, when the Tourette's so overcomes him that he can't go to school or hold down a job and wallows in depression, you as a reader never lose hope. And at the end, hope is the message of this story. Hope is in his family, in his attempts to use weight lifting to combat Tourette's and reclaim his life, and in his work as a librarian.

This memoir is also frank and honest, refreshingly so. Josh (I feel like since we're colleagues I can call him by his first name) discusses his faith and his doubts, his failures and successes equally without self-pity or self-aggrandizement. 

And sprinkled throughout the book are what I call "crazy patrons" stories that will be familiar to any one who has ever worked in a public library. Those stories and Josh's own perspective are humorous, enough so to laugh out loud at times, and to draw in the reader so that we feel as though we are chatting with Josh over a cup of coffee.

This book is funny, heartwarming, inspiring, and such a unique perspective on the world, that I will be recommending it to several people individually.

I don't often quote from books, but this passage so summed up librarianship for me that I thought I would share it:
Those four million circulations represent people taking action. Four million times that someone got something from the library. Even if the circulation simply means that someone requested something on her computer, came in and picked it up, then left right away, she still came. She still used the service. She still took a chance on getting distracted by something else in the building.

The four million small acts lead to members of the community gathering in the same place. People who might never lay eyes on one another elsewhere. In this digital era when human contact sometimes feels quaint to me, this is significant. If libraries themselves become quaint because they house physical objects and require personal interaction at times, so be it. For that reason, I believe physical libraries always need to exist in some form.

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