This is my first time playing, actually. Well, not technically: A friend in 7th grade invited me to join a game in the cafeteria once, but I was out as soon as he found someone cooler to play. (Heh.) I enjoyed reading both the rulebooks and the tie-in novels, and hung out on several D&D online communities, but because my social life (or lack thereof) precluded it, I never had a chance to get involved in an actual gaming session until my friend Michael invited me to join his online campaign with his wife Natania (also an old friend of mine), her sister, and her sister's boyfriend.
It's not quite the real tabletop experience (I sorely rue the lack of pizza, Cheetos, and Mountain Dew), but I'm still having an incredibly fun time. :) I'd been involved in role-playing before (see my award-winning post, "The Secret Origin of Filby Pott!"), but the thing about RP in a setting based on a book is that you're just not allowed to do anything notable that would change the setting in a meaningful way. Especially if you're a hobbit. On the other hand, RP in D&D is all about you, so there's no such limitation.
I'm also thinking of maybe -- just maybe -- starting my own D&D campaign once I feel confident in my grip of the game rules. That would be fun.