Authors Live: Josh Hanagarne, The World's Strongest Librarian

Main Library

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The City Library celebrates the release of Josh Hanagarne's debut memoir, The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family with a lecture and public reception. Sponsored by The Library Store.

View The World's Strongest Librarian in The City Library's catalog.

ABOUT JOSH HANAGARNE (from the publisher)
Josh Hanagarne is a 6'7" giant known as "the World’s Strongest Librarian." A librarian at the Salt Lake City Public Library, he battles his own case of Tourette Syndrome and works to help others. He believes in curiosity, questions, strength, and that things are never so bad they can't improve. Hanagarne's popular blog, World's Strongest Librarian, currently gets more than 80,000 visitors each month.


The threads of Josh Hanagarne's life read like a series of oxymoronic punch lines: bookish strongman, noisy librarian, agnostic Mormon, self-effacing giant. Hanagarne, a life-long Tourette Syndrome sufferer, developed strength, resilience and a life-affirming sense of humor in the face of overwhelming challenges. In THE WORLD’S STRONGEST LIBRARIAN: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family (Gotham, May 2013, Hardcover, eBook), Josh offers a humorous and moving account of his battle with Tourette's, his love affair with books, his attempt to navigate his tenuous Mormon faith, and his revelatory and healing venture into weight-lifting.

Hanagarne, now thirty-five, first began experiencing symptoms of Tourette's at the age of six. One of his earliest memories was of a seizure that sent him crashing into a brick wall as he played tag in the school playground:

I'd been a happy little airplane, soaring above the clouds. Now there was a kamikaze pilot in the cockpit of my skull, scowling at the horizon, trying to find a battleship to crash into.

For the next thirty years, Josh wrestled with that kamikaze pilot, whom he eventually nicknamed "Misty," short for "Miss T." The Tourette's symptoms--verbal and facial tics, body spasms, self-inflicted punches--increased and intensified as he grew older. Moments of calm were few and far between. Hanagarne describes in riveting detail what a Tourette’s attack feels like:

Misty put my left hand in front of the blade. I didn’t tap it this time; I actually put it in the blade's path. The blade was dull—-I don't think it would have sliced my fingers off. But it certainly would have broken them. I watched all of this in horror, from a great distance, even though I was participating. Nobody outside knew that anything was wrong inside the bunker.

But I couldn’t keep my hand still. Even when I sat on it, there was an undeniable urge to put my hand in harm's way. It wanted to be on the blade. It wanted to be in danger.

Fortunately, for Josh, Tourette's was not the only constant in his life. The oldest of four children in a close-knit family, he always had the encouragement and understanding of his parents. In spite of their best efforts and the good intentions of numerous doctors, however, "Misty" kept winning the battle. Josh struggled to maintain a normal life--to finish school, embark on his Mormon mission, have a relationship, keep a job. But in his mid-twenties, Josh ended up at his parents' house, depressed, helpless, and twitchy as ever. Finally, Josh's father nudged him off the couch and to the gym, where he discovered a newfound measure of control over his mind and body:

I tested a few dumbbells and settled on a pair of 45 pounders. I could only manage a couple of consecutive overhead presses before I got wobbly and pulled out of alignment. I felt silly. But as I began to fatigue, the other people faded. Just me and my body. My stupid, thin, Benedict Arnold of a body. I could focus on getting the movements "right" or I could worry about everyone else. I focused on the details.

Weight-lifting became Josh's most reliable refuge and changed him both physically and emotionally. It gave him the confidence to return to school, but Misty refused to retreat. Finally, at his mother's urging, Josh turned to the most successful medical treatment he would attempt--"freezing" his vocal chords with Botox, suppressing his verbal tics but also reducing his voice to a whisper for three years. Although it didn't eliminate his tics or the desire to scream, Botox allowed Josh to be in public without drawing attention to himself, and to pursue a relationship without being self-conscious. During this phase, Josh met his future wife: a loving, patient woman who shared his absurd sense of humor. Once married, he finished school and set his sights on filling in the missing details of his life—finding work that he loved and becoming a father.

A fanatical book-lover and reader since childhood, Josh had been going to libraries regularly since infancy. One day, on a whim, he walked into the Salt Lake Public Library.

Announcing himself to the staff with a Tourettic "Woo!" he requested an application, and was offered a job checking out books. It became the start of a career that continues to sustain and fascinate him.

As he became more serious about strongman training (now he can perform feats such as rolling up a frying pan and tearing a phonebook in half), Josh started a blog about his training and dealing with Tourette's that connected him to a larger world of weight-lifters, strongmen and trainers. It, in turn, led him to the man who would finally bring him some hope of relief from Tourette's--Adam T. Glass. An autistic former Air Force sergeant and prison guard, Adam became Josh's lifting guru, and ultimately helped Josh learn to "throttle" his tics into submission through controlling his breathing. After months of practicing his new technique, Josh achieved his first goal: "Sixty seconds of perfect, beautiful stillness." One minute turned into two, two minutes into an hour, and unbelievably, an hour into months and then a year.

Readers of The World's Strongest Librarian will find inspiration in Josh's resilience and humor in his candor, and will find themselves rooting for the success of this unconventional hero.

Location: Main Library Auditorium

Contact Information: (801) 524-8200