The World’s Strongest Librarian
Gotham Books, May 2013
Josh Hanagarne’s first book, The World’s Strongest Librarian, has so many different hooks it’s enough to make a publisher weep with joy. A 6’7”, weightlifting librarian? Sold. A librarian who suffers from Tourette’s? Sold. A part-Navajo, all-Mormon, Stephen-King-fanboy librarian, who lifts weights and suffers from Tourette’s? They might as well be printing money.
What’s nice about The World’s Strongest Librarian, though, is that it’s not all hook and no substance. If anything, it verges on too much substance, guiding us through just about everything that’s ever happened to Hanagarne: his childhood, his marriage, his Tourette’s, his faith, his job at the Salt Lake City Public Library, his weightlifting, and a few more odds and ends besides. There’s so much crammed in here that it makes the Dewey-inspired chapter headings seem very appropriate—because reading them sometimes feels like wandering, lost, through the stacks.
Like wandering through the stacks, though, you also occasionally happen on a real gem, and here those gems are mainly Hangarne’s assorted vignettes about growing up and living in the Mormon Church. Compared to the more visible, well-publicized representatives of his faith—Mitt Romney, say, or those chatty young fellows with the name badges—Hanagarne’s account, of both the church’s strictures and his own experience navigating them, is equal parts wry, tender, and illuminating. (It’s cheaper than Book of Mormon tickets, too.)