The Relentless Reader Recommends: After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey

Publisher: Scribner
Publication Date: February 2013
Categories: Literary, Personal Memoirs
Source: Scribner
A decade in the writing, the haunting story of a son’s quest to understand the mystery of his father’s death—a universal memoir about the secrets families keep and the role they play in making us who we are.

Michael Hainey had just turned six when his uncle knocked on his family’s back door one morning with the tragic news: Bob Hainey, Michael’s father, was found alone near his car on Chicago’s North Side, dead, of an apparent heart attack. Thirty-five years old, a young assistant copy desk chief at the Chicago Sun-Times, Bob was a bright and shining star in the competitive, hard-living world of newspapers, one that involved booze-soaked nights that bled into dawn. And then suddenly he was gone, leaving behind a young widow, two sons, a fractured family—and questions surrounding the mysterious nature of his death that would obsess Michael throughout adolescence and long into adulthood.

Finally, roughly his father’s age when he died, and a seasoned reporter himself, Michael set out to learn what happened that night. Died “after visiting friends,” the obituaries said. But the details beyond that were inconsistent. What friends? Where? At the heart of his quest is Michael’s all-too-silent, opaque mother, a woman of great courage and tenacity—and a steely determination not to look back. Prodding and cajoling his relatives, and working through a network of his father’s buddies who abide by an honor code of silence and secrecy, Michael sees beyond the long-held myths and ultimately reconciles the father he’d imagined with the one he comes to know—and in the journey discovers new truths about his mother.

A stirring portrait of a family and its legacy of secrets, After Visiting Friends is the story of a son who goes in search of the truth and finds not only his father, but a rare window into a world of men and newspapers and fierce loyalties that no longer exists.

Thank you to Scribner for sending me this wonderfully written and illuminating memoir. Thank you to Michael Hainey for sharing his deeply personal story with all of us.

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne

Publisher: Gotham Books
Publication Date: May 2013
Categories: Personal Memoir
Source: Gotham Books

Josh Hanagarne couldn’t be invisible if he tried. Although he wouldn’t officially be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome until his freshman year of high school, Josh was six years old and onstage in a school Thanksgiving play when he first began exhibiting symptoms. By the time he was twenty, the young Mormon had reached his towering adult height of 6’7” when—while serving on a mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints—his Tourette’s tics escalated to nightmarish levels.

Determined to conquer his affliction, Josh underwent everything from quack remedies to lethargy-inducing drug regimes to Botox injections that paralyzed his vocal cords and left him voiceless for three years. Undeterred, Josh persevered to marry and earn a degree in Library Science. At last, an eccentric, autistic strongman—and former Air Force Tech Sergeant and guard at an Iraqi prison—taught Josh how to “throttle” his tics into submission through strength-training.

Today, Josh is a librarian in the main branch of Salt Lake City’s public library and founder of a popular blog about books and weight lifting—and the proud father of four-year-old Max, who has already started to show his own symptoms of Tourette’s.

The World’s Strongest Librarian illuminates the mysteries of this little-understood disorder, as well as the very different worlds of strongman training and modern libraries. With humor and candor, this unlikely hero traces his journey to overcome his disability— and navigate his wavering Mormon faith—to find love and create a life worth living.

My Thoughts:

Tourette Syndrome, strength training, Mormonism, and literature. Doesn’t that sound like the craziest combo of topics you ever heard of? Guess what? It absolutely works. It all comes together beautifully in one of the best memoirs I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

Hanagarne has a comedic gift. None of the topics that he covers are supposed to be funny but I found myself snort laughing throughout much of this book. The section in which he describes putting the stud in bible study nearly made me fall off my chair. Hanagarne faces his medical condition and other obstacles with humor and inspiring grace.

As I read this book I kept trying to read sections aloud to people around me. “Listen to this!” “Oh! Let me read you this section about his parents!” (I seriously want to take his folks out to dinner, they sound like marvelous people.)

I’m not a Mormon. I don’t have Tourette Syndrome. Yet I felt such a connection with Josh Hanagrane. It might be his love for the written word. It might be that he also read Stephen King when he was much too young to do so. He’s a regular guy that loves his family and wants to do the best he can by them. We can all relate to that. In addition, he can tell a damn fine story.

It was a privilege to read The World’s Strongest Librarian. I can’t recommend it highly enough.