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October 23, 2013
Latter-day Books
Refreshing Reads
by Laurie Williams Sowby

In our culture, the term “LDS books” generally means books by general authorities and other Church leaders, romance or mystery fiction, Church history and historical fiction, or inspirational self-help. And they are plentiful.

Yet, there are some genres that remain almost untouched among LDS writers. Here are a couple of heartily recommended reads.

BYU English professor Patrick Madden is all about words. He takes obvious delight in the mundane, everyday things that many of us don’t even notice — the quotidian. The seemingly commonplace sparks thoughts and images in Madden’s mind that lead to other thoughts and images, many of which he has committed to paper and published as a collection of essays in Quotidiana (University of Nebraska Press 2010, 204 pages in hard cover, $23.95).

The title of the first essay pretty well describes his affinity for “The Suggestiveness of Common Things,” from a baby’s giggle to an uneven number of grapes in a bag to the line of a song sung by his dad or Steely Dan. With simple segues and an evident sense of humor, Madden plays with words and ideas.

Reading and digesting the essays, however, requires something more like savoring a delectable meal than slurping down an ice cream cone.

Madden’s essays are generously peppered with pithy quotes from other writers that lead his thoughts on sometimes long and rambling journeys. This one, Scott Russell Sanders, sums it up: “We sleepwalk through most of our lives ... and ... every once in a while something happens ... outside ourselves that forces us to pay attention in a new way [....] And we suddenly realize that the world is so much richer, and more magnificent, and more wonderful than we had felt for a long time.”


Josh Hanagarne is getting national attention with his refreshingly honest and unconventional autobiography, The World’s Strongest Librarian, subtitled A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family (Gotham Books 2013, 291 pages in hard cover, $26). The reader can expect to laugh, cry, and sigh as the 37-year-old, 6-foot-7 employee of the Salt Lake City Public Library relates his struggles in trying to find ways to control the uncontrollable vocal outbursts, tics, and other physical behaviors associated with Tourette’s syndrome.

A memory from eighth grade, when the noises so disturbed other students taking a math test that he was allowed to go home: “The urges to croak, stomp my feet, and clear my throat didn’t subside. They kept going at dinner, and as I lay in my bed that night. I was exhausted by the effort of the twitching and noises, but I couldn’t sleep because of the twitching and noises.”

The self-deprecating humor of the author — a Mark Twain fan — continues in a later thought: “My tombstone would say, Here lies Josh. He just wanted to quit blinking and yelping.”

Despite some heart-wrenching experiences, including childhood teasing, being unable to complete an LDS mission, and rejection as potential adoptive parents despite his and wife Janette’s desire to have children, there is no self-pity here.

Hanagarne comes across as just a guy looking for ways to handle what life’s handed him — and keep going. One of those methods was taking up weight-lifting, which worked for a while and made him “The World’s Strongest Librarian,” the name of his website (, with tips on “strength training for body and mind.” (Naturally, it includes book reviews.)

His mother’s gift of frequent visits to the library when he was young and the resulting love of learning and books have yielded lifelong fruits. “The library taught me that I could ask any questions I wanted and pursue them to their conclusions without judgment or embarrassment,” he writes. “And it’s where I learned that not all questions have answers.”

Throughout, although he questions some of the beliefs of his strict Mormon upbringing, he treats the Church with affection and his parents and family with loving respect.

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