better the second time

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.

Last Friday was the 75th anniversary of the publication of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (preceding by one day the birthday of Bilbo and Frodo Baggins). Considered a classic children’s book and a master work of fantasy, this is also one of my favorite books. So it’s a little surprising that the first time I picked up The Hobbit, circa the 5th or 6th grade, I read that first page and promptly put it back on the shelf of my classroom lending library.

I don’t know what caused me to bounce off the book so quickly. Possibly because Tolkien does take his time getting to the point, doesn’t he? Or maybe it all just seemed a little too silly at the time.  It just didn’t seem like a book for me, as much as I loved fantasy and science fiction even then.

The Hobbit appeared on a summer reading list for my 7th grade English class, and for whatever reason, I decided to give it another try. And I completely loved it. So much so, that I immediately dived into The Lord of the Rings, which was admittedly a slog a lot of the time, particularly in the first half of The Two Towers. I’m really glad I gave the book another chance.

This has happened for me with other books, too. Most notably, I bought a copy of The Silmarillion, but it took me ten years to actually finish it, at which point I inhaled it in about two days. Dune by Frank Herbert put me to sleep when I first tried to read it in the 7th grade, but I was suddenly able to appreciate it. And I now have no trouble getting through The Lord of the Rings whenever I reread it every couple of years.

Sometimes we revisit beloved books and either find that our tastes have changed too much to enjoy them any more, or they bring us back to the time and place in which we first read them. But how often do we revisit books that didn’t work for us the first time around? In my first encounter with The Catcher in the Rye, I was way too young to get it, but years later, it suddenly meant a lot more to me.

With so many books out there to read, these days I’m less inclined to finish a book that I’m not enjoying or come back to one that I couldn’t get into, but there’s something to be said for giving books a second chance. So much of the experience comes from the reader; even your mood affects whether or not you feel like reading a book. I guess it’s a matter of knowing the difference between “not for me” and “not for me right now.”

Do you have any books that you passed on or disliked at first, but fell in love with later on?

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8 Responses to “better the second time”


  • I’ve rarely given books a second try. Too many books, too little time!

    • I know what you mean. I think I’ve gotten better at deciding pretty quickly whether I might like the book better later or if it will never be something I want to read. I’m much more likely to give an author a second or even third chance if I bounce off one book.

  • I’ve given books multiple tries. Ones on my list include LOTR and The Hobbit, just like you. As a child, I tried very hard to enjoy The Hobbit. I read the opening scenes three or four different times and just couldn’t do it. I tried to read LOTR when the films came out, but couldn’t make it through The Two Towers when it got to the part with Gollum and Sam and Frodo going through marsh after marsh. I had to read Fellowship of the Ring in a class in college, and ended up reading all three because I loved them so much now.

    1984 and Anthem are other books I hated on first read but appreciated much more on reread.

    Of course, rereads can also work the opposite way and make you realize how blind or stupid younger you was. :-p

    • Yeah, there are a lot of books I indulged in as a kid (Piers Anthony, I’m looking at you) that I may have just grown past, but I find nostalgia will carry through most of the children’s books, even if they aren’t as amazing as they seemed back then.

      Oddly enough, I loved the Frodo and Sam bits of The Two Towers but couldn’t stand all the military and political machinations of Aragon and the others. It was torture to wait until the second half of Return of the King to find out what happens to Sam!

  • I had this happen to me with “The Lovely Bones”. I read it when it first came out, which I believe was in 2002. It was getting all kinds of hype and I just didn’t understand it. Then, a student wanted to read it with me in 2006, and I absolutely loved it when I reread it. As readers we’re kind of in conversation with our books–we bring our own concerns and experiences into them. For whatever reason, the 24-year-old me was much more moved by that story than the 20-year-old one.

    • Interesting! I did like The Lovely Bones right away, and I’m sure I would look at it differently now than I did the first time. And possibly when I have kids, I might not be able to read it again at all.

  • I also didn’t get The Catcher in the Rye when I read it in my late teens…and I have yet to give it another chance. But another book I started around the same time and also didn’t get into was Watership Down–which I then read about 10 years later and LOVED. So you’re absolutely right, tastes do change!

    (I don’t think my opinion on The Lovely Bones will ever change. I couldn’t stand that book.)

  • I had the same reaction to The Hobbit. My 7th grade English teacher gave it to me thinking I’d love it, and I bounced right off. I had zero interest in these dwarves and their parties. But then I read LOTR in high school and went back to The Hobbit when Carrie gave it to me and loved it.

    As a kid, though, I mostly just read anything indiscriminately. It was very unusual for me to look at The Hobbit and say no way, no how.

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