As a kid, I thought I might like coffee someday. When my Grandma brewed coffee or I walked past the coffee place at the mall, I liked the smell of it. But when I tasted coffee for the first time, I spit it out. It was bitter and nasty and left my breath smelling like an ashtray. Then, one day when my dad was tasked with picking up chocolate ice cream for a party, I made an interesting discovery.
This was back when half gallons of ice cream were actual half gallons and they came in flimsy cardboard cartons that never outlived the ice cream now matter how yummy it was. My mom loved Tupperware, so of course we had a tupperware holder the exact same size as the half gallon block of ice cream designed for exactly that reason. Mom had transferred the ice cream into the Tupperware and scooped small bowls for everyone. She took a bite and screamed, “Paul! It’s coffee!” She ran to the sink to spit it out. You see neither of my parents are coffee drinkers. You’ll notice I said earlier I smelled coffee when my Grandma brewed it. My dad jumped up to check the discarded cardboard. Maybe, just maybe it wasn’t his fault. Maybe the ice cream makers put the wrong ice cream in the wrong carton. Nope. There it was plain as day. Coffee ice cream. But why would they make it the exact same color as chocolate? We all wanted to know. I decided to take a bite. And it was wonderful! So creamy, and sweet with just a hint of coffee at the end. I decided right there and then, I’d be a coffee drinker. Maybe not black coffee, but with enough stuff in it, coffee was delicious.
Why do I tell this story? To embarrass my parents of course. No, but my experience with coffee reminds me of my experience with books. When I was a kid, I loved having stories read to me. My mom read to us before bed each night. (I mean the nights when she wasn’t at a Tupperware party.) Over time, she read the entire Little House series. Being read to reminded me of walking past the coffee place. I loved the smell, but hadn’t really learned to read books on my own.
The first chapter book I read was Paddington Bear. Ask my siblings and they’ll say I still hate Paddington. I got so confused reading that book. I would read pages and pages and then realize I wasn’t comprehending a word of it. I didn’t understand why they called the trunk a “boot” or what a “lift” was. And I decided right then and there, I’d never eat marmalade - a promise I’ve kept by they way. Paddington was my black coffee. I spit it out. I told my 3rd grade teacher I can’t read chapter books. She handed me a paperback and sat me down in the book nook (a corner of the room with all the books). I looked down and read the title. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
I picked up that book and met a kindred spirit who came alive to me. I didn’t know books could do that. I learned that I could open a book and ride a raft on trouble river, or become friends with a “radiant” pig, or survive the wilderness with only a hatchet.
This fall I’ve been revisiting some of the books that made me love to read. I’ve reread most of the Little House series. It’s just as good as I remembered. Like when Laura says, “There’s no great loss without some small gain.” Oh, how I need to remember that when I’m struggling. Or this little gem. Ma says, “We start learning the minute we're born, Laura. And if we're wise, we don't stop until the Lord calls us home.”
Another book I read this fall was “Anne of Avonlea.” This was my first time reading it even though I’ve read Green Gables many times. I’m not sure why I avoided it. Maybe I didn’t want to be disappointed, but I can say with certainty I wasn’t disappointed. Anne sees the world with such wonder. You can’t read these books without opening your eyes and seeing the beauty all around you. Anne says, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
When a friend described something, Anne said, “I suppose that’s how it looks in prose. But it’s very different if you look at it through poetry.” I couldn’t help but reread this part a few times. How beautiful is that? I want to be the kind of person who looks at life through poetry.
For me, books were like coffee. I had to try the right kind before I could appreciate how much I loved them. There are some people who never end up liking coffee. That’s fine. But it breaks my heart that there are people who never end up liking books. Books are how we “don’t stop learning until the Lord calls us home”.
If you’re in a reading slump, can I make a suggestion? Think back to the first book you loved and read it again. You may just find yourself giddily turning the pages, seeing the small gains in big losses, and looking at life through poetry.
If you're not in a reading slump, curl up with a good book and some coffee ice cream. Because it's coffee. And ice cream.