‘Pot-Bouille’, the big laugh I have this weekend

pot-bouille

I have had Pot-Bouille for several years. But I abandoned the novel until just last weekend when I was cleaning my small room, rearranging books in the bookshelf then I found it. At first, I didn’t want to read it (still). I attempted to read the novel but catching the first page cushioned me away. The words were not beautiful, I thought at the time. It was a translated version nonetheless (the original one in in French language written by Emile Zola).

So I never considered giving it another try. Until last Saturday when I didn’t know why my hands got the book then opened it. My eyes were sparkling reading the first page. They were quite entertained by the words; short, descriptive. More than enough to get me through the weeks.

So, the first page that used to be very narrow and unpleasant turned to be literary-worthy. The novel has become a good companion on my daily commute. How comical!

I was happy at that day. The money that would be used to purchase Thomas Hardy’s novels are still in the wallet. That’s trivial advantage by the way. The relieved one is that this has become the second or may be the third time I have given myself a chance to prove myself wrong.

For a person who mostly believe in first sight, what happens between me and Pot-Bouille and me and The Return of the Native serves like an anomaly, which is a good thing because my experiences with the two novels show me that my mind can change. I am a reader on a progress. Anything can happen in terms of reading preference.

What used to be the most-avoided reading materials can nourish my soul later on. The thing is letting myself open to any kind of books although the writing styles do not match up my taste. It is important becoming a flexible reader because I still have a lot of things to learn. It is too soon to close my eyes, limited only to things that catch my attention from the beginning only.

So, Pot-Bouille has been nice so far. The plot moves quickly. The language is straight-forwarded. The theme so far has been about the manner and the lives of middle-class people in Paris, probably in the middle of the 19th century. I really love this sort of theme by the way.

The first pages of the book introduces me to the grand apartment where the characters reside. I can visualize how magnificent and elegant the place is and Paris in general. The extravagant life it has to offer, the rich people and the problems they have to face amidst the wealthy lives they experience.

So, I currently enjoy reading the book. Wish me luck guys! What books are you in right now? I’d love to read from yours.

The picture is taken from this.

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So, where do the desolations in the works of Thomas Hardy come from?

I have written a lot about Thomas Hardy’s most well-known novels; their summaries, analysis, comments, joys, frustrations, and as far as I remember, none of his personal life has been included in this blog. Separating authors’ private lives with their works is inevitable though I want it to be untrue.

I have been wondering what makes Thomas Hardy’s novels are too hard to bear. I have been questioning how come the endings of his best books leave me with mixed feelings. Even the ending of ‘Far from The Madding Crowd’, which I think is his only happily-ever after-finale book among ‘Tess’, ‘Jude The Obscure’, ‘The Woodlanders’, ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ and ‘The Return of the Native’, doesn’t thrill me. It does relieve me but not excite me.

And today I reread the writer’s biography, particularly on his marriages. I have once read about it but missed some great points on his love life; that he and his first wife, Emma Lavinia Gifford, were happy in the first years of the marriage but later grew distant. Secondly, Hardy, though perhaps is spurred by his first childless marriage, began visiting some other women, one of whom was Florence Dugdale, his second wife, while he was still married to Emma.

However, his second marriage proved to have been bleak as well. Hardy, despite his aging period, became so glued at his study while Florence was in the shadows of Emma, whom ironically he ignored when she was still alive. After Emma died, Hardy regretted how much he neglected her and how bad her illness was. He had a wreath containing “From her lonely husband, with the Old Affection”.

I can’t imagine how miserable his life back then. The saying that goes “you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone” is quite suitable to describe his life after the death of Emma. Hardy can’t remedy the things that have been gone away. This is the most saddening of all.

Despite the rumors that Hardy was an unfaithful husband, I put another concern on how complicated Hardy’s personality is. On one side, he had affairs with some women, including Florence, but in another side, he neglected her, too. He preferred working to have lived his second marriage, taken care and loved Florence as his wife. May be his only friend was his jobs, his writings, his views about life in general.

I myself sense that his personal stories either directly or indirectly add dreary tone in many of his novels. Although they don’t explicitly tell readers about Emma, or Florence or his childless marriage but there’s a lot of things to wonder beyond that somber atmospheres.

In ‘Tess’, Hardy mostly brings out its most dramatic, bleakest sides. Not to mention is his standpoints on the faith, trust and an almost long-life regret by Angel Clare.

“The Mayor of Casterbridge” is attached with sadness because Micheal Henchard dies amid the ending of the book that is sealed with the marriage of Elizabeth Jane and Donald Farfrae.

And oh, “The Return of the Native”. Although it’s better that Clement Yeobright lives alone after the death of his unfaithful wife, Eustacia Vye, I can’t help feeling a bit gloomy after reading the book. The union of Thomasin Yeobright, Clement’s cousin, and Diggory Venn, doesn’t help me much.

All I remember about “The Woodlanders” is the unrequited of Marty South, a faithful, peasant girl who is in love with Giles Winterborne although he loves Grace Melbury. Marty South remains faithful to Giles, visits his graveyard while Grace returns to the arms of Edgar Fitzpiers.

While for ‘Jude the Obscure’, Hardy’s last completed novel, is way too much heartbreaking. Besides “Tess”, this book puts Hardy and Emma in heated arguments. The outcry from churches and public at that time is said to have made Hardy no longer  writing novels then devoted much of his time composing poems. For those who haven’t read the novel, “Jude” revolves around the love of Jude and his cousin, Sue Bridehead, which was controversial at that time. Furthermore, they eloped,  were against license marriage though they later got married due to people disapproval on their romance.

Again, while my opinions may be incorrect, I think it’s worth noting how Hardy’s life say something about his forlorn ideas seen in his major novels.

 

“The Three Strangers” by Thomas Hardy

I thought I would never again find another title other than famous novels by Thomas Hardy in the Kinokuniya bookstore. “Far from the Madding Crowd,” Jude the Obscure”, “The Major of Casterbridge”, “Tess of the D’urbervilles, “The Return of the Native”, and “The Woodlanders”, are his widely-read books, which I have read, too. Usually, the store sells only most popular works from an author, including Hardy, thus discovering his short stories collection is such a rarity for me.

Aside from the glee that I am going to read his less popular stories, the fact that the book is just as Rp21,000 or less than US$2 is perfect for my current pocket.  The 85-pages book contain his three stories – “The Three Strangers”, “The Distracted Preacher” and “The Fiddler of the Reels. So far, I have completed reading “The Three Strangers” which leave me with mixed feelings about the writer.

Before going on the reading remarks, I would like to share what the story is all about:

The loneliness of Higher Crowstairs, the name of a cottage, is broken down by the gathering of 19 persons — men and women from various professions. They dance, talk about so many things while listening to the beautiful rhythm coming from a 12-year old fiddler boy. One of the attendants in the conglomeration is shepherd Fennel and his wife. The blitheness of the party comes to a stop when a stranger knocks at the shepherd’s house.

Not long after that, a second strangeman goes in, too. While the first produces no sign of awkwardness, the second one seems a bit avaricious and mysterious at least for Mrs. Fennel. Although she tells her husband how she dislikes the look of the second man and that she feels he is a bit avaricious for quickly drinking lots of mead, Mr. Fennel ignores her complains.

The night goes on and the second stranger joins the party by singing a song about shepherd which stimulates the wonder among the people because of the man’s strange lyrics. While he is about to resume his song a knock at the door is audible. The third stranger, a man in a decent dark clothes, is about to ask for a direction but he stops saying after his eyes catches those of the second stranger. The latter keeps singing, though, that later makes the third man gets trembling, shaking then running away.

While the group has yet to fully understand the motives of the third man’s sudden departure, a gunshot shocks them. Later, they learn that the police are looking for a shepherd stealer. They then quickly conclude that the third man is their target given his super quick, weird behaviours. The male attendants pursue him, including the second man.

However, he does not follow the overall research and stops by at a friend’s  house. At the end of the search, the people and the authority finds the third stranger then brings him to the police. Surprisingly, the police declare that the third stranger is not the wanted man. The third man then explains that it is the second man who becomes the object of the investigation. He flees from the shepherd’s house after he finds out that the second man, who is also his brother, is there, too. When his brother rises his bass voice, the third stranger quickly learns that the former does not want to be found thus the latter chooses to escape. At the end of the story, the second man is never discovered.

 

 

Let me be honest. Four things I dislike from Victorian novels

Reading less than 30 Victorian novels from four different writers is, I know, insufficient to call this dislikeness list a representation of the overall canon literature era. I have created this list, however, according to my readings so far that will likely change in the near future for I promise to myself to read more books written by authors, except Thomas Hardy, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot and Oscar Wilde.

Too women centric

This may sound too subjective but I always feel women bear too much in almost each story that I have read. Even if they are heroines I find women during Victorian era suffer too much. The first sample is Molly Gibson in ‘Wives and Daughters’, a super thick novel that has been completed this week after a 3.5-month of an on-and-off reading process. She is a flawless character; honest, really good-tempered, compassionate, very tender, lovable girl. She is too soft-hearted that she acts kindly to her stepsister Cynthia who gets engaged to the love of the former. Even when Molly becomes the subject of gossip among Hollingford people as resulted from her intention to fix the relationship between Cynthia and Mr. Preston, Molly remains in good terms with Cynthia. What distresses me while reading the novel is how much Molly disturbed by the Victorian womanhood standards set by, particularly, her stepmother, Clare or Mrs. Kirkpatrick who later changes her last name as Mrs. Gibson. The stepmother is so noisy and annoyed with Molly’s curly hair, messy dress and her relatively tomboyish traits. I feel this kind of similiar disturbance when reading ‘The Mill on the Floss” in which Maggie Tulliver is often teased by her relatives and is compared to her girlish cousin because of her tomboyish personalities, too. How hard it is to be a good woman in the eyes of the soceity at that time even if Molly and Maggie come from rich families. How complicated their lives are…

For women from low social status their sitution is much more difficult, for instance is Tess Durbeyfield. This heroine is my most unforgettable one because of her tragical, depressive life story. It’s her real life struggles that are just beyond my senses. Not only her romance is so heartbreaking but also her impoverished family forces her to do whatever she can to make ends meet. Although yes she marries the love of her life, Angel Clare, yet their sweet tale lasts so quick, incomparable with their long separation.

Excessive details

There are some novels which I think contain too many details, some of which are unnecessary, making the reading process sometimes burden my mind. For instance in ‘Adam Bede’. George Eliot allocates a number of pages about Methodist whenever she wants to describe the characterization of Dinah Morris. Apart from my limited knowledge about Methodist, I think that it does not really shape Dinah Morris as a distinctive character compared to, say, someone who is a Catholic follower but not a Methodist one in particular. She is really a religious person who spends a lot of time to help those in need but what makes her especially distinctive to those who are close to God without any certain sect is uncertain. Or may be you can shed another light on this topic for this is beyond my understanding.

Another sample for this point is in ‘Wives and Daughters’. As this super thick book wants to depict the growing period of Molly and another character, needles to say that Elizabeth Gaskell needs to write this really long story. Yet there are some chapters which I think are insignificant to the formation of the characters. For instance is when Gaskell puts a chapter on Cynthia’s visit to the Kirkpatrick family in London which although she meets Mr. Henderson whom later she marries with, I don’t think this should be a certain chapter for another visit to the family takes place later on.

Too depressive

Some stories in this Victorian era proves to be too somber with “The Mill on the Floss” is my leading example. It is very miserable to recall what happens between Maggie and Tom Tulliver for it costs their lives to eventually realize how much the latter loves the former.

Another fine example is of course “Jude the Obscure”. Very desolate, dark, pathetic. Sorrowful tone is all over the book even if yes, there are some lovely moments between Jude Fawley and Susanna Florence Mary Bridehead or called as Sue. Hardy’s attempts to go against social norms by presenting the affairs between Jude and Sue, who are distant relatives, turn out to be disastrous. Their decision to elope then register their marriage only after they get sick of people’ gossips make the matter even worse. You can find almost all tartness here: divorce, poverty, sickness, death, rumours, forced reunion. And the finale sparks my anger as Sue gets back to her old lover Mr. Richard Pillotson while sadness leads Jude to death.

Some of you may choose “Jude the Obscure” as more depressive than “The Mill on the Floss” but I select the other way around because “The Mill” is very heartbreaking while “Jude” is sometimes like a karma as they should not get married given their relative status. While Hardy ignites controversy at that time due to their forbidden romance and illegal union the end of the book suggests you that he advices readers not to go against the norms.

Where is the romance?

 

If you want to read Victorian novels for finding romance story, like major scenes about romance, well I think you’ve got a relatively wrong reason although this depends on which books you choose. I think most of Victorian writers put society norms, family mattters, materialism, manner aspects above love stories. From Oscar Wilde to George Eliot, they have the same tendency; that society completely influences characters’ personal affairs. Worse, there are some books that reveal happy love stories after the novels almost come to a close. For instances are ‘Mary Barton’, ‘Tess of the d’Urbervilles’, ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and ‘Wives and Daughters’. Elizabeth Gaskell reunites the love of Mary and Jem just after they have gone some misunderstandings and have escaped from death penalty.

In ‘Tess”, things get much wretched. While the joy between Tess and Angel begins at the center of the novel when they meet in a dairy I think their most enduring lovely moments start only when they have separated for quite a long time. Their joy lasts too quick for Tess is later executed for killing Alec.

Although ‘Mary’ and ‘Far’ are written by different authors yet Gaskell and Hardy’s views on romance is similar in a way that the love story can only tasted only when characters have gone through difficult moments that test their faith. In ‘Far’, Batsheba and Gabriel Oak gets married in a very quite, modest ceremony just when the book is about to end.

I get dissapointed with the ending bond between Roger Hamley and Molly Gibson for they don’t even verbally confess their true feelings. In the last chapter, Roger is seen to have given gestures that attract Molly’s attention. It’s too bad Gaskell leaves this novel unfinished after 766 pages long yet readers can fancy that both Roger and Molly share the same feeling. And that happens just a few pages after the book ends.

How I wish to complain to those authors who give little enjoyment when it comes to real romance!

The Return of the Native

The reading process of this book is way more challenging than enjoying its story itself. This Thomas Hardy’s fourth book I have read stole my eyes as I was looking for a supposedly light, romantic reading after being left devastated as I completed reading his another novel, Jude the Obscure. At glance, I thought I could finish the book immediately as I planned to bring it as a companion in heading back home. But the reality spoke the other way around. I was struggling in finishing the novel, not because of its heavy, serious theme, but rather I was too busy to find reading time. I could not even read the book in an executive train that was bringing me back home because I preferred to have some sleep or gazing at the train’s windows. When I was at home, automatically I barely touched the book. Given its thickness, I rarely put it into my backpack as it is already packed with other stuff. So it took months to complete the reading despite its quite interesting plot. I almost gave it up. I meant it. After some time, I managed myself to grab the book and focused all of my entire my mind at the pages (I completely stopped reading it after I reached half of the novel).

At one night, despite all tiredness and sleepy head, I regained my spirit and done! Finally I got out of the so-called reading curse. I experienced this reading block for quite few times which I really don’t have any intention at all. My worse reading moment are with “Fury”, “Middlemarch”, to name a few. After closing “The Return of the Native”, my expression was: Damn! Why I didn’t finish reading it earlier??? The book is so awesome!

The book is about love pentagon, about five persons who are involved in a complicated romance story. About five characters who fail to admit what they really need thus instead get what they want only want to see.

Hardy introduces the beauty of fictional Egdon Heath, the place where all major characters — Clym Yeobright, Damon Wildeve, Eustacia Vye, Thomasin, and Diggory Venn — live at the opening of the book. Eustacia becomes the central woman character in this book. Hardy describes her as a very beautiful, smart woman with such abundant dream she can’t manage to realize it into a reality. She lives with his grandfather and through all of her life, she wishes to marry a gentleman who can grant her ambitions and dreams of leaving the place and living in a fashionable, big city. She is so in love with Wildeve but the latter’s playboy attitude causes her to get so envious. She thinks he only plays with heart. But Wildeve thinks he only seeks for some pleasure, something that results on his serious, deep relationship with Thomasin, Clym’s cousin. Wildeve and Thomasin get married anyway despite the fact that Wildeve actually sets his heart for Eustacia only. For the rest of his life.

Clym Yeobright, the native of the place, returns home after some years away in France to seek opportunities in education. He wants to establish a school in his native place, an idea that receives opposition from his mother. The stubborn Clym resumes with his initiative. The beauty of Eustacia dazzles him. He invites her to become one of the teachers at his planned school. Eustacia, who has been waiting for this kind of man to propose her, reluctantly agree while keep on persuading him to return to France. The two tie a knot despite Clym mother’s strong rejection. She doesn’t even want to attend his sole son’s wedding. She knows pretty well how bad Eustacia’s attitude is; arrogant, lazy, daydreamer.

Clym and Eustacia opt to leave the former’s house. As days go by, Clym finds it hard to make his dream come true. Instead, his eyes are sick due to his long-hour reading habit. Eustacia gets depressed day by day. Her husband is ill. It’s almost impossible to ask for him to go back to France. The worst finally comes. As Clym gets better, he decides to work as a laborer as he believes this kind of job won’t harm his eyes. Eustacia is angry at his decision. She feels so ashamed at knowing what he will do to make ends meet. Her husband is an intellectual, noble person, how come he wants to do such kind of thing?

As her life is getting away of her ideal, Eustacia seeks for some entertainment. At one night, she decides to go to a dancing party where she meets Wildeve, someone who always has a special room in her heart. The night marks their reunion and their relationship goes deeper than ever. They do what they once did in the past; secret meetings behind their partners’ back. Both Clym and Thomasin know nothing of this. Thomasin knows that her husband and Eustacia once a lover but she has no curiosity that their relationship goes on. No one pays attention to this, no one but Venn.

Venn, a mysterious guardian angel who loves Thomasin whole-heartedly, knows everything on the secret meetings. Even after Thomasin rejects his love then she is married to Wildeve, Venn remains as a good companion.

Realizing how short and lonely her life is, Clym’s mother takes initiatives to amend her bad relationship with Clym and Eustacia. The old woman manages to come to their house and apologize. As she is approaching the house, Clym is sleeping while Eustacia and Wildeve are in the house. Both are speaking seriously on the fate of their relationship. When Clym’s mother knocks the door, Eustacia decides not to open it for she is afraid that Clym’s mother will exacerbate their already doomed relationship. Clym’s mother feels so much in despair as she knows that Clym does not want to open the door and rekindle their intercourse.

Much to her disappointment, Clym’s mother heads back home with grief. She is so sad that she falls ill seriously and dies before meeting her son for the last time. Clym mourns his mother death and he feels much worse after he knows it is Eustacia who doesn’t allow her mother to get in the house.

After a terrible fight following the death, Eustacia leaves the house then returns to her grandfather’s house. She locks herself, feels so sad, and even tries to shoot herself. This is the perfect time for Wildeve to offer his help. He visits her one night then invites her to escape. Wildeve wants to provide material assistance for Eustacia after he inherits his uncle’s wealth. The two plan to meet at one night when which Wildeve will walk her to a harbor.

Learning her husband’s suspicious absence at that night, Thomasin contacts her cousin. Clym immediately runs to Eustacia’s house to ask whether or not she reads his letter. Knowing she leaves even without the knowledge of her grandfather, Clym seeks for her whereabouts. As he arrives at a dam, he hears a strong voice indicating a person falls into the dam. He runs faster then finds out Wildeve jumps into the water. Clym does the same.

When they are rescued, Eustacia and Wildeve are dead while Clym is survived. The end of the story is closed with the wedding of Venn and Thomasin while Clym eventually achieves his dream of sharing knowledge to people in the place though he does this not in a schoolroom but at top of a hill, like a preacher.

 

Some tips on how to find reading time amid busy life

In times where smartphones and computer tablets are very popular, I think having a deep reading time is becoming quite rare. Not to mention so many work that awaits us in the office or homework for students. Here, I’d like to share few ways on how to keep in touch with novels or books although we are very busy.

1)    Bring books anywhere you go
I practice this most of the time. In case you are busy even during weekends, try this effort when you want to read. Bring novels in your bag and make use your time effectively. Usually, I read when I wait for bus. When I am already in the bus, I resume reading novels. Not only this helps me to always have time for reading, this also eases my patience during traffic jams. One thing that we must be taken into notice is that we should purchase relatively thin novels so that they won’t be a burden for your bag, unlike me and “The Return of the Native” (see previous post). This effort enables me to finish reading some books and novels despite the fact I actually spend less than one hour every day. That’s quite surprising for me.

2)    Loyal friends during waiting
Waiting can be boring when your friends don’t show up on time because of many reasons. Many people opt to use their smartphones either for chatting or browsing while waiting for their friends, but I choose to shift my attention to books. Waiting can be a perfect time to continue our reading moment.

3)    Before bed activity
I rarely do this tip because I can fall asleep quite fast. I once read articles that reading can be a good way for those who are unable to sleep quickly. And definitely, you can rely on completing reading books at this time.

4)    Turn off TV, leave high tech gadgets for a while
No joking. High tech gadgets are very revolutionary, helpful invention. Think about how we can manage almost everything with some clicks away via smartphones or tablets, iPads, or everything you have. But also, they can be very time consuming. Relying much on them can make our days be unproductive. And I am no exception. Sometimes, I check my BlackBerry just to find out other people’ status or pictures. Such unnecessary activities. I think this kind of activity making us to become lazy in reading conventional books, papers, I mean. So, I try switching off my BlackBerry once in a while then checking it when necessary. That helps me a lot to find convenient time for doing other things unrelated with technology or social media activity. And one of the activities is by reading books or writing.

5)    Weekend enjoyment
I miss this kind of moment at the time being. When I am not busy, I make weekend as the best gateway into the world of books. Sitting in a cozy sofa while reading books all day long. Book lovers know exactly how that make them feel.

I hope those simple tips can boost your spirit to get back in reading books. If you love books, you will always do as your best to find time to read them all, just like when you like someone whom make you feel you have to meet him or her all the time.

Getting stuck in reading a book

Buying a book without having enough time to read it is one of the biggest sins. And that’s one of the mistakes I have made in the past few months. Each time I look at “The Return of the Native”, I feel so guilty. It’s not about the price that I pay for the book but more because I completely lose my interest in reading the novel. I try reading “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in a hope that I will be enthusiastic in resuming my reading of “The Return of the Native” but that’s all in vain.

I like the topic in “The Return of the Native”, actually. It’s about real romance and it is written by my most favorite classic writer, Thomas Hardy. At first, I find that the reading process is smooth and I love his story. The language is beautiful as usual. Unfortunately, time limit causes me unable to spend sufficient time to finish reading the book. I have to admit I’m so busy lately. I have bunch of freelance translation jobs and sometimes I have to finish office work during weekends. I abandon the novel for so long that I can no longer really enjoy the story.

Probably, you may ask: how can I read “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” so fast but not for “The Return of the Native”? the answer is: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is very thin and handy so that I can bring the book anywhere I go. Most of the times, I read the novel in a bus, plane, or during waiting moment. Also, the story is so amazing. So, pardon me Mr. Hardy. For this time being, “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” is definitely way above your work.

While “The Return of the Native” is the other way around. It’s so damn thick! I can no longer carry the novel every day when I go to the office. Initially, I am able to bring the book but it gradually becomes such a burden in my bag that already contains net book, cable, and other little stuff that makes my bag is quite heavy for a little woman like me. *sigh*

And the story is not as good as previous three novels from the English writer. So there you go. I get stuck with the book and I don’t count how many times I experience such kind of thing. Prior to this, I give up reading “Middlemarch” by George Eliot and “Impressions of Theophrastus Such” by the same author. From this experience, I won’t never ever touch any books by George Eliot. I simply dislike her long sentence writing style like William Faulkner’s.

Even I have this kind of experience with my most beloved author, John Steinbeck. After reading “East of Eden”, “The Grapes of Wrath”, “Of Mice and Men”, “Tortilla Flat”, I can’t believe that I need years to complete reading “In Dubious Battle” (and on-and-off reading process, of course). The novel is too political, too heavy, and too dark. To my surprise, Steinbeck’s writing is completely not smooth at all. I can’t feel any emotions while reading the book.

The worst experience about this is when I read “Fury” by Salman Rushdie. I can’t help digesting his coarse words all over the book. Plus, the story is too depressing. I don’t why I buy the book anyway. The novel is so expensive for me, about Rp176,000. *crying on the floor*

So, that’s my experience with unfinished reading novels. And the question will be on how I reclaim my enthusiasm with “The Return of the Native”? Should I really stop like I did in the past or I resume reading it?