Today’s Challenge: The Hobbit

As usual, I’ll be spending my Sunday doing my homework: reading the book that will be discussed in this week’s book group at the library.  The teen book group meets this coming Tuesday, so today I’m reading The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, a book that was chosen by one of the teens in the book group.

99.99% of the time I view this homework assignment as a wonderful opportunity to keep up to date on recently published children’s and young adult literature, since most of our book choices are newly published.  I love reading, I love children’s and young adult literature, and I love facilitating these book groups each week, so it’s all good (though it’s always that much better in the wintertime, when I can read by the woodstove).  But I’ll admit that The Hobbit falls into that .01% of the equation – I’ve struggled through this book several times, both on my own and while in grad school, and have never ever ever loved it.  Though I thought it was a great suggestion for the teen book group, I personally dreaded having to read it again.

When I read The Hobbit in grad school, I bought a fancy illustrated copy of the book for myself, hoping that Michael Hague’s illustrations would make the reading more palatable.  They didn’t, and I ended up donating that copy to the children’s room collection (it’s been gratifying to see that many children have loved reading my donated copy).  So when it came time to read The Hobbit this time around, at first I checked out that copy that I had donated.  But I realized that I had come to loath that yellow cover and Hague’s lush illustrations, and so I took a trip to the Concord Bookshop last week and bought a new copy of the book for myself, one which is illustrated by the author. 

And something surprising happened when I began reading it yesterday: I actually liked the book.  Huh?  What a shocking surprise.  My reaction supports the reader response theory that time and place and mood can affect the reader’s opinion of the book.  This copy feels good in my hand, not too big, not too small, smooth and clean.  The colors of the cover make me happy.  The size of the font is just right – large enough to read, but small enough that the book remains a manageable size.  Tolkien’s illustrations and maps suit his text, the careful spidering lettering matching the tone of the book.  And I’m reading it on a beautiful sunny winter day, the sun reflecting off the snow outside.  The woodstove is cranked, the cats are taking turns in my lap, and Jim is in the porch playing guitar.

All these things add up, and reading The Hobbit doesn’t feel like a chore this time around.  And who knows, maybe I’ve finally reached the point in my life where this is the right book at the right time for me.  Maybe I’m finally ready to read and understand and appreciate it.  I can only hope that the teens in the book group have a similarly positive experience with the book…

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