The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

“You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time—of anything. If you’re laughing, I defy you to be afraid.”

This is one of my favorite quotes, made by a very funny man, Stephen Colbert. I was reminded of it while reading this memoir.

Josh Hanagarne has a great sense of humor, forged in the crucible of a loving family fond of practical jokes — and he needs it. Diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome as a child, he faces extra challenges. Tourette’s affects his school life and his stint as a missionary. He must persevere to find love, to finish his education, and to establish a career. The incongruity of becoming a librarian is not lost on him. He writes:

“One of the reasons I work here is because I have extreme Tourette’s syndrome. The kind with verbal tics, sometimes loud ones, the kind that draws warning looks. Working in this library is the ultimate test for someone who literally can’t sit still. Who can’t shush himself. A test of willpower, of patience, and occasionally, of the limits of human absurdity.”

Tourette’s isn’t Josh’s only medical challenge; he and his wife also struggle with the pain of infertility. His honesty in examining the effects of these difficulties on his relationship to God and his church is engaging and moving.

Then there’s the weight training. Worried about his son, his father bundles him into the car and takes him to the gym. Dad’s instincts are good.  Josh finds the focus of weight training helpful for coping with Tourette’s. Then one day at the library a book by Pavel Tsatsouline, aka “The Evil Russian”, crosses his desk. Pavel is a proponent of training with kettlebells (“essentially a cannonball with a handle”) and advertises his methods with such catchy phrases as “Try it if you think you’re so tough. You’ll wish you were dead.”

Have you ever seen a movie you liked so much that afterwards, when telling friends why you like it, you find yourself practically reenacting it? Saying things like: oh, wait, I can’t believe I almost forgot to tell you about this scene! That’s how I feel about this book. I haven’t even touched on Josh’s library life, or what happens when he and his wife try to adopt a baby, or several other key sections. But maybe it’s best if I leave some things for you to discover.

I loved this book. It had a lot to say to me about family, love, marriage, faith, libraries, and weight training. I thought it fitting that it ended with a challenge met with laughter.

Check out Josh’s blog at

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