Much of Utah’s charm is in its quirkiness, and so too it is with Josh Hanagarne: a 6’7” spiritually wandering Mormon librarian with severe Tourette’s syndrome. He proclaims a passion for Stephen King’s grisly novels while, at the same time, a love for Fern, the courageous 8-year-old at the center of Charlotte’s Web. And, as the self-proclaimed World’s Strongest Librarian, he can lift 600-pound boulders and bend nails. In his memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian, the reader comes face-to-face with Salt Lake City’s new hometown hero—a witty, self-effacing, smart and strong author.
Great memoirs share some vital elements. Primarily, they feel authentic, and make you feel like you truly know the person. Second, they make you laugh, or at least smile—it would be dishonest to portray the human experience without a little levity, even in the darkest of tales. Third, you fall in love with (or furiously despise) the protagonist—there can be no lukewarm feelings for people whose lives deserve tomes.
Tourette’s syndrome, a neuropsychiatric disorder characterized by motor and vocal tics, plays a central role in Strongest Librarian. The constant tics that Hanagarne has experienced throughout his life provide the backdrop for more pedestrian challenges like dating and work matters, all of which illuminate his particular story in a way that is at times heart-wrenching and other times hilarious. As a self-imposed treatment for Tourette’s, Hanagarne turned to strength training: lifting heavy objects, bending nails, ripping apart phone books with his bare hands, all of which only adds to his intimidatingly large physique and renders any further attempt at “blending in with the crowd” impossible.
The elements that make Hanagarne stand out in everyday situations are the same that make Strongest Librarian so successful. Having a disorder that manifests itself so visibly to the public, and a frame that provides no opportunity to shrink away, have nullified the need to hide behind his words and have freed him up to more openly tell his story. The constant and violent tics have paved the way for a brutal honesty in his writing about joy, pain, fear and hope.
There is certainly no shortage of memoirs on the market these days. That makes it hard to find the good ones, and even harder to find the great ones. Josh Hanagarne’s The World’s Strongest Librarian is one of the rare greats, and paints an intricate portrait of a Salt Lake City original.
Errin Pedersen is the Adult Services Manager at Salt Lake City Public Library. To find more info on The City Library's programs and services, visit slcpl.org