So I finished reading Josh Hanagarne’s excellent memoir last week and am still feeling the urge to gush. This book just works on so many levels that I feel compelled to recommend it to a lot of friends, for all kinds of reasons. I’ve written a full review on my review website, Rated Reads, but I’ll share a bit more here.
First, I like to laugh, and this book made me laugh. Check. Second, I felt I had a bit of insider’s knowledge because Hanagarne was raised Mormon and talks a lot about Mormonism, such as scripture stories, the experience of serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a lot of other little cultural touchstones. Since I’m LDS myself, I felt I could really appreciate what he was talking about. At the same time, he explains things so well that readers who aren’t Mormon won’t miss out. I think he handles that really nicely. But I got a big kick out of some of his stories, like the one when he’s a young boy talking about Ammon and all the cut-off arms in his Sunday school class. (See my review on Rated Reads for more information or the original account in the Book of Mormon, Alma 17: 18-39, and you can better appreciate the humor).
I also enjoy learning about what it’s like to deal with particular life challenges. In this case, Hanagarne helps readers get a little idea of what it’s like to live with Tourette Syndrome. He explains it really well and makes it funny as well as informative. His way of telling his personal experience with this syndrome helps readers appreciate what it’s like without feeling sorry for him. We just get to know Josh, who has these annoying tics and outbursts.
He has loved to read for pretty much his whole life, his mom being the great kind of mom who took him to the library at a really early age and read to him and with him. So he talks about favorite books and authors. He is now obviously a librarian, and he shares stories about all the wacky people and situations he encounters working at a large library in downtown Salt Lake City. He so clearly loves books and being able to work in a stronghold of information (despite the wackiness) that it’s just great fun to read what he writes about books and libraries. Great quote from the book:
Last, and this ties in to my previous point about his faith background: he has struggled with faith off and on for a lot of his life, wanting to have the strong faith that his mother so clearly has and wants to instill in her family, but just not always “feeling it.” Faith involves both knowledge and feelings, essentially, and he talks a lot about how he has often wondered about what he feels and doesn’t feel in that regard. I liked that rather than being at a point of anger at God or bitterness about organized religion or the LDS faith in particular, he is at a point of just not knowing, of being uncertain. He wants to “feel it” and can cite several specific (and beautiful) examples of when he did have a prayer answered or a concern addressed by God, but for much of his day-to-day life, he just doesn’t feel a connection with the divine when seeking it through prayer or other religious activity.
Hanagarne shows no antagonism but expresses more of a sense of loss, of the “pieces of his life” not “fitting together” and meaning the big thing they used to mean. He worried that his mother, especially, would be angry or distraught (“I’d pictured a maternal rebuke, disappointment and tears, … a guilt trip…”) when he told her he was going to stop going to church because he wasn’t “getting anything out of it anymore,” but she just told him, “The older I get, the more I see that people just have to live their own lives and make their own choices. I’d be lying if I said I like this. I don’t. … But you’re my son and whatever happens, we’ll all still love you and that won’t change.”
I love how he expresses his search, his experiences, his feelings and non-feelings, and his uncertainties. I love his dialogue with his mother. It’s all so honest and real, and what I’d say is a view on an ongoing process. I love how supportive and still hopeful (I thought) and faithful his mother is as they talk.
I feel hopeful for him, too. He is blessed, and we’re all lucky enough to be able to read about his story, the warmth, the wonderful family love, the fun, all mixed in with the challenges of regular life and the specific challenges of Tourette’s.