Josh Hanagarne is a librarian and a lapsed Mormon, which made me feel like we were destined to be spirit-animals right off the bat. But the similarities dwindle from there. Josh suffers from Tourette Syndrome so severe that, in its darkest moments, has caused him to punch himself repeatedly in his own face. In The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh writes about turning to books and strength training to cope with his crushing challenges. This is a moving and enjoyable read, and Hanagarne is a totally lovable bookworm — consider: his adorable childhood crush on Fern from Charlotte’s Web, his adolescent binge reading sessions of Sweet Valley High, and his enduring obsession with the non-Mormon-approved Stephen King. Books were Josh’s friends when friends were tough to come by, and that love shines through in a bubbly and heartfelt way throughout all his struggles and soul-searching. The World’s Strongest Librarian is also a fascinating read about faith — what it means to have it, question it, lose it, reclaim it, and ultimately make peace with it.
Verdict: BUY, because as a book-lover, you’re going to want this AMAZING book about loving books. And probably give away a few copies as gifts.
There are two kinds of readers: those who are devoted Jon Ronson fangirls-and-boys, and those who haven’t heard of Jon Ronson yet. Friends, I present Jon Ronson: a bespectacled British journalist who writes thoughtful long-form journalism about quirky fringe phenomena like telepathy, aliens, and psychopaths. He was first introduced to an American audience on the radio show This American Life, and he’s got a knack for the sort of stuff that makes fans of that show swoon — sniffing out the peculiar in everyday life, getting to the heart with equal parts empathy and wit, and drawing wry conclusions about modern life. Lost at Sea is his collection of haunting and hilarious shorter pieces from the past decade, including stories about Insane Clown Posse, James Bond, Stanley Kubrick, robots, and too many other bizarre and wonderful things to name. Ronson is a fabulous narrator of his own work, and my like for Lost at Sea blossomed into full-blown love when I switched from the print to the audio.
Verdict: BORROW, because you’re going to want the audiobook and that @#&$% is pricey! Save your cash to splurge on his earlier books The Men Who Stare at Goats and The Psychopath Test instead.
I was excited to read The Sugar Frosted Nutsack mainly because it has a naughty title, and secondly because I read a giddy mainstream review that described it as “gun-to-the-head comedy delivered with a stratospheric I.Q.” But after giving it the old college try, I’m afraid I can only partly agree (… get it?). The Sugar Frosted Nutsack is a Greek epic / pop culture mashup that follows unemployed butcher Ike Karton on his misadventures with mischievous gods who’ve just gotten back from a cray-cray spring break à la Jersey Shore. I think the target audience for this book is probably edgy classics scholars in tweed jackets (love you guys!) who are like “Shut UP oh no he DIDN’T!” when Leyner jams a pop-culture reference right up against something more erudite. For me, this exuberant geekery and word play eclipsed the other things I tend to like about books.
Verdict: BYPASS, unless you are a special snowflake who likes arcane classical references more than anything else in the whole world.
Sam Pink first caught my attention when his publisher launched an unusual promotion for his book Rontel this Valentine’s Day: “Order Sam Pink’s new eBook and he’ll sext you on February 14!” I’m not saying whether Sam Pink sexted me or not, but I will say that I totally loved this book. Its meandering narrative follows a 28-year-old protagonist as he wanders the streets of Chicago desperately trying to hate everything, only to be thwarted by cute things like cats and dancing babies. It’s a tiny little novel that yearns to uncover what it means to be a “real man” in 2013, and I imagine it’s what Charles Bukowski and Albert Camus would’ve written had they teamed up and been like, “Hey, let’s write a comedy together!” Sam Pink also has an incredible eye and ear for the streets of Chicago, and he knows how to turn out a damned funny product review, too: “We all know paper towels are a whiz in the kitchen. But did you ever think they’d be so great to dry yourself off? I say — beep beep — go ahead.”
Verdict: BUY, because you don’t know where that copy you’re about to borrow has been.
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