A Short Stay in Hell by Steven L. Peck
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Being either a weightlifter or a librarian are not two commonly checked boxes in the “what do you do?” category of any survey, but finding someone who could honestly check both would be nearly impossible. Or so you would think. Josh Hanagarne, though, assigns himself not only those two monikers, but he’ll also add in being Mormon and having Tourette’s to the jumble of labels that make him who he is.
It’s an odd premise for a book, I will admit, but Hanagarne does an excellent job weaving his story, giving the reader not only an in-depth look at where he has been, but an truthful assessment of where he is as those different roles ebb and tide in his life throughout the years.
There is much to appreciate about The World’s Strongest Librarian, but its real strengths (forgive the word choice!) lie in its honesty and fairness. Not only does Hanagarne talk frankly about the trials that come along with dealing with constant physical and vocal tics, but he also gives a heartbreaking account of his fear of passing those same challenges on to any future children and the guilt that comes along with that possibility. On an even more personal level, Hanagarne gives readers a glimpse into the world of the LDS church and what it means to be raised Mormon. While he is honest about his current indifference to organized religion, it was nice to see a book give the church a fair shake, taking a pretty neutral stance on many of the teachings. Often, what is written about the church is either pushed by zealotry, either in favor or opposition to the religion. It was interesting to see so many of the stories from the Book of Mormon told in a modern way, emphasizing aspects of the church that are rarely a part of public discussions. As he deals with his own faith (or lack of) he doesn’t disparage the church/culture in which he was raised.
By starting off each chapter with a story or two from the inner workings of a large public library, I found myself drawn to both Hanagarne’s current situation, as well as learning to understand what created the person he is today. I enjoyed reading about the odd patrons that walk through the doors of their institution on any given day, as well as felt pangs of nostalgia for when I had easy access public libraries whenever I felt the need to wander the stacks in search of a new book (or two, or three).
As someone with zero (or less!) interest in weightlifting, I must admit to having trudged through a few pages here and there when Hanagarne gets into the details of kettle bells vs. traditional free weights or the specifics of training. But, the occasional skimming of a paragraph here or there didn’t take away from the overall story one bit.
But, by far, my favorite part of The World’s Strongest Librarian, is the abundance of literary references throughout. I love how Hanagarne wraps up so much of his personal story with the writings of other authors! Not only did his true “librarian-ness” shine through at these times, but it gave me a whole new reading list.
Josh Hanagarne’s The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family was a great weekend read and one I would recommend to people who are checking a variety of different boxes in their own lives. His story is one that, while seemingly catered to a very niche audience, is actually a tale of personal growth and the overcoming of obstacles, which ultimately makes it applicable to us all. This book easily earns: