Q&A with Author Josh Hanagarne

Today I’d like to welcome Josh Hanagarne, author of The World’s Strongest Librarian (reviewed here). In addition to being a newly published author and avowed booklover, Josh is also a librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library, which made some of his humor in the book ring particularly true for me since we share that profession. 

For those of you in the Seattle area, Josh is going to be in town and talking about his book! Tomorrow, May 18th, he’ll be at Third Place Books, and on Monday, May 20th, he’ll be at the Seattle Central Library.

And now, here’s some Q&A with Josh:

Q: Why did you decide to write this book?

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh HanagarneJosh: Everyone loves a good story, including me.  And there’s nothing as messy and chaotic as a human life, which is why memoirs can be so engaging and surprising.  It just so happens that this story was about me and I’d be the one to write about the mess.  I started writing the book because I wanted to see where the story went.  I kept writing because I had to see how it would end.

Q: How has Tourette’s impacted your life?

Josh: Let’s get the negative out of the way: My case of Tourette’s hurts, it’s disruptive, it’s exhausting, it makes it hard to be out in public, it made me a great target for bullies, etc—Tourette’s often steals my chances to make my own first impressions. There’s this weird thing that goes out before me, announcing me, defining me, before I get the chance to explain myself. But it’s not me.

There are positives, though: Tourette’s has made me tough, stubborn, and has given me a low tolerance for whining and inertia. And it’s lead me to a lot of wonderful people in the Tourette’s community, particularly the kids who are having a tough time adjusting to the disorder.

Q: What are some of the ways you have tried to conquer your tics?

Josh: Lots of pills. A nicotine patch. A faith healer/chiropractor in Elko, Nevada, who dressed like Randall Flagg from The Stand and administered to me with ramen noodle crumbs in his scraggly beard. I got botox injections in my vocal cords for three years, which took away my voice, so I couldn’t scream, but I couldn’t really talk either.

Lifting weights helped for a while, because I would train so hard that the pain of the workouts made the tics pale in comparison, but that’s a stupid way to approach a problem. I’ve also tried to stifle the tics through willpower, but that doesn’t work for long.

Ultimately, it’s come down to a grim truce. I’m still convinced I’ll get rid of it entirely, but until then, I’ll be running on pure spite, here in the library, on full display and defiant.

Q: What do libraries mean to you? What do you think is the future of the public library?

Josh: The library is the ultimate symbol of freethinking and curiosity. Its presence in a community is a challenge to the pack mentality and an invitation to ignore ideology and explore your mind. However, it will be tragic if the library gets reduced to nothing but that symbol. The future of public libraries depends on whether people think they need a library or not. Libraries need to prove that they can offer people something they can’t get anywhere else. As long as they’re doing that, they’ll exist in some form. I hope they don’t become museums.

Q: Are you still a Mormon? How has your faith changed throughout your life?

Josh: Not really. I still go to church now and then with my family; it certainly doesn’t hurt me. I’d call myself a “heritage Mormon.” Mormonism is such a fantastic American story that I get a kick out of being from such tough stock. Those pioneers were rough customers.

At this point I’ve got some of the habits, minus the conviction.

The major shift in my lifetime of faith is that now I’m more interested in how I think than in what I think.

Q: Why is strength training important to you?

Josh: Training is the only time I feel like I’m in control of my body. It’s where I can actually see that I’m getting better at something. You’re either stronger than yesterday or you’re not. In any case, there’s no downside to being strong and healthy, so don’t feel like you need to have Tourette’s to take care of your body! It’s a gift you can always give yourself.

Q: How can we get kids to read more?

Josh: They need examples. If you’re a parent who loves books, your kids will probably love books. If you are in a mentor role and kids who emulate you know that you prioritize knowledge, they will too. This sounds very after-school-special-ish, but learning is fun. Kids learn and adapt by watching the adults around them. If you play Angry Birds all day in front of your kid, you don’t get to whine when his reading comprehension lags.

Q: What do you hope readers will get out of this book?

Josh: I hope they’ll laugh, hug their families, use their libraries more, read more books, and ask all of those uncomfortable questions they’ve been avoiding. And then I want them to write to me and recommend a book that I should read. Anyone can send me a recommendation through my website.

Josh HanagarneAbout Josh Hanagarne Josh Hanagarne is a proud dad, husband, writer, speaker, and librarian.He currently lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. Yes, voluntarily.He is obsessed with books and book culture. Speaking of, his own book, a memoir called The World’s Strongest Librarian, will be published by Gotham Books in 2013. This is extremely awesome.

He is nearly as obsessed with the fringe world of physical strength.

Most of the time he loves people. He is interested in helping as many of them as possible, as long as it doesn’t involve pretending he knows things he doesn’t.

All of the time he hates boredom.

He has an extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome. He is owning it.

He loves his parents.

He likes to ask questions.

He loves big words but tries not to trot them out for casual conversation.

To learn more about Josh, visit his website and blog or follow him on Twitter.

Review: The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh HanagarneFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, hardcover, audiobook
Genre: Memoir
Length: 288 pages
Publisher: Gotham Books
Date Released: May 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living.

My Review:

Melk Abbey LibraryThe first chapter of The World’s Strongest Librarian should be required reading for people who want to become librarians. Especially the ones who have a completely romanticized view of what it is like to actually BE a public librarian on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the chapter, I think they’ll still want to do the job, but they’ll have one hell of a lot better idea of what they’re letting themselves in for.

And I laughed myself silly. On the bus. It’s too bad I wasn’t in the staff room at work. At least, then, I could have shared instead of just sounding like a lunatic.

But all professions have their in-jokes, and that’s not what’s at the heart of this book, or Josh’s story.

Josh does share his profound love of reading in a way that is joyful. He obviously deeply loves reading, but uses it to escape from a world that has often contained it’s share of difficulties. While his memoir covers his struggle with Tourette Syndrome, I think that a lot of us who have become librarians have, in one way or another, found an escape from something in the pages of books that we have loved.

Josh just has a more compelling way of expressing both his love of the books that he is diving into, and the sometimes seemingly overwhelming challenges that he faces, than most of us do.

Josh HanagarneThis is a hard book to review. It feels as if I’m reviewing Josh’s life as well as the way he wrote about it, and that seems like a double-whammy. It’s not quite fair.

Josh writes in a way that makes the reader empathize with his struggles, even when, occasionally, you aren’t able to 100% understand the pain, only that there is a tremendous amount of it. And, like anyone else writing their own story, one suspects that it was probably even worse than Josh writes it, and he’s none too kind to himself at some points.

Although he talks a lot about his physical strength training, it’s Josh’s inner strength that shines through.

Reality Rating B+: The strength in Josh’s writing is his sense of humor. His biggest target (no pun intended, he’s 6’7″) is always himself. He never intentionally aims his wit to laugh AT anyone else. He doesn’t place blame.

And without fail, he credits the support of those around him, particularly his parents and his wife. It’s refreshing to read about someone with any kind of difficulty who isn’t playing the “blame game” and who isn’t going overboard in the other direction, claiming that he’s doing everything all by himself.

For a reader who isn’t into strength training, the details can be a bit eye-glazing, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some readers find the library details somewhat mind-numbing. And vice-versa.

It’s hard to bare your soul as openly and Josh has in this book and make it readable. He writes about seemingly everything; his parents, his doubts about his Mormon faith, his Tourette’s and the problems it causes, his search to find a meaningful career, everything. And he makes the reader want to keep reading.

I’m glad that he went into the reasons why he thinks that books and reading are important, and makes an impassioned plea for the future of libraries. For that, I thank him from the bottom of my library-loving heart.

But most of all, his is an amazing story. You’ll be glad you read it.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.