Disclaimer: The fact that I'm reviewing this right now has nothing to do with the release of the movie.
Note: Those of you who have read my "Of Significance..." page may remember that The Hobbit is listed there, so this is (by far) not my first reading of the book.
As I've mentioned, I'm teaching a creative writing class at my kids' school. When it was discussed, back at the beginning of the school year, about assigning them a book to read to go along with the class, I immediately suggested The Hobbit. It was not on the "short list;" it was the list. I really can't think of a better book from which to teach writing form. Also, there is the part about introducing the kids to great literature.
My choice of The Hobbit as a book I think everyone should read has nothing to do with it being a great book. I do think it's a great book, but, mostly, I think it's a simple book. And, when I say "simple," I mean "straightforward." It is not a book with a complicated and convoluted plot. It doesn't have hidden meanings and subtleties. It is what it says it is, a fantastical adventure story. That's why I wanted to use it for the creative writing class assignment.
If you want to look at plot arc, you can. The story follows only one protagonist, and there aren't any twining branches or confusing twists. It's just "hero gets into trouble"/"hero gets out of trouble." It's easy to look at and map out and, most importantly, it's easy for them to understand.
If you want to look at character development, you can. Bilbo is not the same person at the end of the story as he is going in, and you can see the changes as they happen, and that's good for these young writers to see. Especially, it is good for them to see in a literary world where so few characters do any real changing these days other than becoming awesome fighters through some brief training montage. Actually, as I'm typing this, I think The Hobbit should be required reading for anyone hoping to be an author. These days, it's all about "voice," but I really don't care how good your voice is if your protagonist doesn't grow within the story. If the protagonist doesn't change, your story falls flat. [And, now, I'm thinking of a ton of books that I have been less than pleased with, and I think this is the reason: no character growth.]
If you want to look at how to deliver a message within a story, The Hobbit has that, too. Not hidden or veiled messages but messages told through the repercussions of the actions of the characters. I mean, you can't get more clear than when someone tells you to stay on the trail, you need to do it. And, no, that's not really what I'm talking about, but I don't want to get into the specifics until I actually get into the review. The book does, though, have strong messages about greed and war in particular.
The Hobbit, in many ways, is the perfect introduction to reading. It's a clear story that most of us can actually relate to in some way. It has humor and sorrow. It's fast and it's fun. It's simple enough for a child yet full of things only an adult can understand. It's the story that you would beg your grandfather to tell on a cold night in front of the fireplace, and Tolkien tells it that way. Right down to the hypothetical question, "What is a hobbit?" right in the middle of the narration. In short, the story is delightful. And scary. And exciting. And sad. It is full of life and what life is, and, yes, I think everyone should read it. Earlier is better than later, but, if you missed it when you were 10 or 12, there is always time to go back and make up for it.
Having said that, no, I don't think everyone will love it or, even, like it, but it's one of those things -- like chocolate or cheese -- that you just need to taste. Skipping it entirely is too much of a risk.