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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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