Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

I have several friends who have a child or children with Tourette's Syndrome. Before I met them, I had the same concept of this neurological disorder that many people do: the image of a person uncontrollably spewing obscenities that tv and movies would have you believe are the hallmarks of this disorder. In actual fact, I've never yet heard my friends' kids cursing but I have seen or heard small and not so small tics. And I've talked with them about the ways in which they try to control these outward manifestations of the disorder. It sounds perfectly horrible, not only because of the involuntary twitches and vocalizations but because of the social repercussions, especially among children, and the feeling of powerlessness over the disorder itself. And that is just one of the reasons why Josh Hanagarne's memoir, The World's Strongest Librarian, is so fascinating.

Hanagrane is a 6'7" weight-lifting librarian, a Mormon who is uncertain of his faith, and he has battled a severe case of Tourette's Syndrome since he was a small child. His family is a loving and supportive one and they took Josh's constant blinking, the initial manifestation of the disorder, in stride, accepting him as he was and backing him when his finally diagnosed Tourette's caused his life to veer off the course he (and they) expected it to take. As Hanagarne details his struggles with the disorder he nicknames Misty, he also speaks of his crisis of faith, his love of books, the sometimes unbelievable craziness of his job, the amazing and understanding people who entered his life as teachers and coaches, his and his wife's struggle to conceive and/or adopt, and eventually his discovery of weight-lifting and the way in which is temporarily quieted Misty. Every aspect of his life is touched and invaded by his Tourette's. There is nothing that escapes the tentacles of this tenacious disorder.

Hanagarne does a good job recounting his struggle to calm the tics and quiet the outbursts as he also wrestles with so much else in his life. He tells his story with strength, honesty, and heart. He's conversational and entertaining (he clearly inherited his mother's story telling abilities) and his struggles to accept himself, doubts, tics, and all is wonderfully presented. The pacing and weighting of his story is rather uneven though. The bulk of his tale focuses on his adulthood and the weight lifting that offers him some relief from his symptoms but it's the emotional rather than the physical aspects of his challenges that are more interesting. His recounting of his family and his wife's acceptance of his loss of faith is touching and the crushing, soul destroying journey in the adoption world will break your heart. Although there is some drag here, this is a ultimately a quick and rewarding read.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

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