World’s Strongest Librarian
Josh Hanagarne is a strong, courageous and inspirational character. He is a proud dad, a public speaker, a Mormon, a librarian, a weightlifter and a published writer. He does all that whilst battling with an extreme case of Tourette’s Syndrome. His memoir; The World’s Strongest Librarian will be published by Gotham Books on May 2, 2013.
The book takes a look at some of the challenges he has had to deal with facing Tourette’s syndrome, and how he has coped. More than that; he tries to encourage, inspire and support others. He is heavily involved in helping people with special needs and regularly speaks publicly to groups of people with disabilities. He is dedicated to helping other people like him to discover their full potential. In his book, Josh talks openly about his own neurological disorder and how writing and weight training have aided him. Before undertaking these two very different activities, his ticks and uncontrollable movements caused him physical damage such as broken teeth, a dislocated thumb, and even caused a hernia.
As a librarian, Josh admits that literature is an obsession with him. He did not start writing his own books until his Tourette’s hurt him so much that he couldn’t leave the house. His screaming became irrepressible. He needed botox injections to paralyze his vocal chords leaving him unable to talk. As a social person, Josh turned instead to writing to continue communicating with people in the absence of voice. Writing became a way to keep up with social discussions. He wrote his first novel The Knot during this time.
For Josh, literature and writing is not only something he enjoys, but something he needs. Writing is a way for him to have control. Tourette’s often takes control of his body. Writing and literature allows him to be in control of his mind, to see progress that he can measure and demonstrate. It is in literature where he finds some stability. And as an author, a creative person, he finds a larger purpose. As with writing, weightlifting gives Josh a sense of accomplishment and control. Extreme physical exertion began as a way to suppress the pain often caused by Tourette’s, but he continued to lift to be strong, to be healthy, and to take control of his body.
Josh also discusses his religion in his book. He is satisfyingly neither fervent nor reproving. His church is simply part of his heritage. What he takes from the Mormon church is a way of life which he learned from his father; that is, the Mormon Church is the church of “don’t be a dick”.
Why did you decide to write this book?
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.
How has Tourette’s impacted your life?
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.
What are some of the ways you have tried to conquer your tics?
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.
What do libraries mean to you? What do you think is the future of the public library?
The library is the ultimate symbol of freethinking and curiosity. It’s 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.
Why is strength training important to you?
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.
What do you hope readers will get out of this book?
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: http://worldsstrongestlibrarian.com/recommend-a-book/