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. Read more...
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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.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2013-01-28
- Reviewer: Staff
This wildly quirky memoir of facing down his ferocious Tourette’s tics follows Hanagarne, the son of a gold miner, from a bookish Mormon upbringing in Moab, Utah, to becoming a six-foot-four kettlebell-lifting librarian in Salt Lake City. First noticed by his well-meaning parents when he was in first grade, Hanagarne’s tics and involuntary vocalizations grew steadily worse through adolescence, until the family finally got a diagnosis when the author was in high school, learning about Tourette’s dopamine imbalances and the potential for various drugs. He began to see the dreaded condition as a kind of bodily parasite, with a separate identity he called Misty. Playing basketball and the guitar helped the rangy, overtall Hanagarne to deal with his physical itchiness; and after being forced to return early from his mission year in Washington, D.C., at age 19, when the disability nearly incapacitated him, he entered a long, restless spell of dropping out of school, sporadic employment, and periodic weight training. Hanagarne’s account manages to be very gag-full and tongue-in-cheek, alternating with highly engaging current segments that take place in the urban library system where he works, besieged by noisy, importunate, rude—though mostly grateful—patrons. Moreover, the narrative is informed by Hanargarne’s deep reading of Stephen King and others, and proves a testament to his changing faith, as he recounts his marriage and his wife’s inability to conceive for many years, and their rejection by the Church of the Latter Day Saints for adoption. Reconciled with Tourette’s, Hanagarne never let the disease get the upper hand. Agent: Lisa Dimona. (May)
A librarian who stands tall
With his powerful 6'7" frame and a severe case of Tourette’s syndrome, Hanagarne defies the stereotype of the timid librarian, turning his love of books into a rewarding career.
A librarian with Tourette’s sounds like an oxymoron. How did you choose your career?
Like a lot of librarians I know, I’m just not well-suited to do anything else. I chose this career because it combines all of the things I love about life into one vague job description. Also because I knew it would test me as far as the Tourette’s.
You are a hugely avid reader, thanks in large part to your mom. What did she do to turn you into such a bookworm?
She led by example. My mom loved books and reading, so her kids did as well. I never had a chance to be anything but a bookworm.
Can you briefly describe growing up with Tourette’s?
Twitching, tears, timidity and a few triumphs.
How did Tourette’s shape your 20s?
I let it steal most of my 20s. I let it take much of my self-worth, my ambition and my confidence from me. But there’s nothing that makes me sadder than the lost time. Which is one of the reasons why I’m pathologically productive at this point.
You write candidly about uncomfortable situations in the library. What is the public’s greatest misperception about libraries?
Probably that libraries are just buildings full of books.
Why are physical libraries so important to communities?
To answer that question, I’d ask you to go to your local library and watch everything that happens there for a couple of hours. Look at the schedule of activities. Watch children looking at picture books with their parents. Then picture everything that would be lost if the library were suddenly gone. That makes the case for me better than anything I could say.
You obviously love your job, even though it entails “attending community council meetings, monitoring the mentally ill, surrogate parenting, gang and drug activity tracking” and more. What makes working in a library so great?
There’s nothing I love as much as I love stories, and working in the library is one huge, unpredictable story. I’ve learned more about the highs and lows of humanity here than I have anywhere else, from both the books and the people. I think it would be a great location for an anthropology dissertation.
Strength training and breathing exercises enable you to anticipate and manage tics. What’s your coolest strength-training trick?
“Trick” would imply something anyone could do, if they just knew the secret. The “trick” is to get strong enough to do this stuff! I think that the coolest thing I can currently do is to pick up a 300-lb. stone and put it on my shoulder.
What message would you like to send to young people struggling with Tourette’s or other significant limitations?
Any time you spend thinking “I can’t believe this is happening” is ultimately wasted time. It’s easier said than done, but I believe real hope comes from moving from “I can’t believe this is happening” to “this is happening.” Because once you can accept that it’s happening, the logical next question is, “So what now?” If you can ask, you can improve your situation.
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Read our review of The World's Strongest Librarian.