I'm really struck by how different the experience of reading a book can seem depending on your life circumstances when you read and re-read it. I'm reading The Hobbit right now to my youngest son, who is 10; this is my third time through it. I read it when I was a teen, and then I read it to my oldest son when he was 7 or 8. I loved the book when I first read it, but really struggled through it with my oldest son. We finished it, but I remember thinking that the book was not nearly as interesting as I had remembered it from my first reading. I was really disappointed and surprised by the experience.
This time around, I love the book again. We have read half of it, and it feels exciting and interesting throughout. Several times we have gotten to a logical stopping place, looked at each other, and decided kept reading. That was not my experience when I read it to my oldest. I couldn't wait to get to a stopping place.
So what's different? One thing is the age of my children. When I read it to my oldest, my other children were 4 and 1. Not lots of sleep or time to read on my own. I was, I think, a dulled reader at the time. Another difference is that we have seen the first Hobbit movie, and this has helped me visualize some of the scenes that I couldn't before. I'm not one to watch a movie before reading a book--and often I don't want to see the movie after I've read a book because I don't want to spoil my experience of it--but seeing the movie this time has increased our enjoyment of the book.
It's no great insight to say that we are different readers every time we read a book we've read before, and as a result the book seems (or is?) different. But when I've thought of that idea before, I always understood it as variations on enjoying a book, or seeing things that weren't apparent in earlier readings. With The Hobbit, I've gone from loving the novel as a teen, to disliking it in my thirties, to loving it again in my forties. Perhaps the most fulfilling reading challenge for 2014 would be a re-reading challenge.