There aren't very many books I'll read a second time, but the few I've opted to re-read seldom disappoint. Only rarely do I ask myself, "What was I thinking?" when that second read does disappoint.
Even more rare is the book I'll give a second chance when the first attempt fell flat. I did that recently, and I blush to tell you the title. It was Marilynne Robinson's debut novel, Housekeeping. Housekeeping won several prestigious awards, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction. Marilyn Robinson's second novel, Gilead, did win the Pulitzer.
So what was my problem the first time I attempted to read Housekeeping? I'd heard so many great things about the novel from all the writers I interact with, but I just couldn't get into it. Still, I held onto it, thinking someday I'll give it another try. Well that "someday" came a few weeks ago, and from the opening page I was hooked, and asked myself countless times throughout the reading, "What on earth did I miss that first time?" The answer: "I have no idea."
I've tried to evaluate my state of mind when I made that first attempt three years ago, to see if there are clues as to why I didn't like it then, but there's not enough that's different in my life from then 'til now to explain it. I'm just glad I did give it a second chance, because I really liked the story. Or at least I very much liked the writing. The story certainly had its dark side, but there was enough good about the writing that I was willing to stay with it for the duration . . . this time. And who knows, maybe the bottom line is that the dark side of the story was too uncomfortable for me three years ago.
The point is, it's not very often a reader will give a writer a second chance when we fail to grab them the first time around. When I'm looking for a book to read/purchase, I'll read two, maybe three paragraphs of the opening page at the most, and if I'm not intrigued enough to keep reading at that point, I put that book down and go on to the next. Strong openings, particularly opening sentences, are so important. As you write and edit your opening pages, keep that in mind. We have precious few seconds to hook a reader, and even less to hook an agent or editor. Hone that opening page to the sharpest precision, but the subsequent writing must be equally enticing to keep the reader engaged. Keep your writing tight, your characters engaging, your story on target, each scene important, or the reader will be on to the next book on her list.
Is there a book you've given a second chance, and wondered what you missed the first time around? Or if you've once given up on a book, is that it, no second chance?