A Letter to Librarians from John Moe

John Moe’s popular podcast is coming out from your earbuds and onto the page with THE HILARIOUS WORLD OF DEPRESSION, a remarkable investigation of the disease, part memoir of his own journey, part treasure trove of laugh-out-loud stories and insights drawn from years of interviews with some of the most brilliant minds facing similar challenges.

Today, John joins us to share what libraries mean to him.

I’ve always found libraries to be tremendously calming and comforting. As a person with a depression disorder, I’d locate the largest library available and just be there for a while, soaking up the tidiness. Within that one clean, quiet, well-lit building, I knew I could find books on motorcycle repair, murder mysteries, biographies of obscure world leaders, and instruction on how to improve my batting stance for a Little League team I was not on. It made the noise in my head quiet down, which was great because then I wouldn’t have to be shushed by some psychic librarian. (Kidding, kidding, I know that librarians aren’t all about shushing people and only about
70% of them are psychic.)

Though I have it under control now through careful and conscientious management, depression could tie me up in my own negative thoughts and make me feel trapped there, unable to interact with the world. Worse, I was too exhausted from the effort of getting through the day to even try very hard. But the library had that whole world available to me on shelves and in card catalogs, all with a handy numerical cataloging system. It had ordered the nihilistic chaos. I had zero interest in motorcycle repair (though I did dabble in that one Robert Pirsig book) but I was glad to know where to find it and it was a balm to know it was a great big world and I didn’t have to be locked in my own head with spiraling negative thoughts.

For the moment, alas, the libraries are closed. I sometimes browse electronically through the catalogs anyway, just to know what’s there. I’ve downloaded some books and some audiobooks and, with some time on my hands at last, I’ve made some progress in plowing through the stacks I’d been meaning to get to for years. And I’ve noticed that as I go from book to book, I’m emulating the broad selection that made physical libraries such a refuge. I’m shifting hard, trying to achieve maximum variety.

I’ll dig into Erik Larson’s new book about Churchill during World War 2, because as a middle-aged dad, I’m required by federal law to be fascinated with World War 2. Then I’ll dive deep into Patti Smith’s memoir, JUST KIDS. Then I’ll read Jack Handey’s deeply funny novel, THE STENCH OF HONOLULU before knocking out a few chapters of THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE, a difficult but necessary exploration of the effects of trauma. From there, a pop into Warren Zanes’ biography of Tom Petty, then a hard veer back to World War Two and into Anna Reid’s bleak and extensive history of the siege of Leningrad. Started to read Stephen King’s THE STAND before realizing, “Oh no. This is a terrible idea right now.” My reading list is like a set list from the world’s worst DJ; it has no flow whatsoever.

I do it because I love books, sure, but I do it to show me a broad world. When you have a mind bent on beating itself up, it’s a good thing to keep that mind very interested in other things, to expand the world as much as you can. I’ve always counted on libraries for that but, just as I can’t get into my office at work for a while and had to build a new office in my closet, I’ve had to build a new comforting library of possibilities.

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