The Everything Learning Italian Book, by Ronald Glenn Wrigley, MA
When one has read (and enjoyed) books that combine amusement with instruction (like the Idiot’s Guides), it is a bit of a letdown to read a book that offers no sort of lighthearted amusement or dry irony whatsoever. That is not to say that this is a bad book about Italian–far from it–just to say that it is a workmanlike book, lacking in the spark of humor and life that makes it a joy to read instead of just an academic exercise. Someone reading this book is likely to be informed about Italian, is likely to learn something about the language and culture of Italian, but will probably find little enjoyment apart from the (considerable) enjoyment of learning.
As can be expected from anyone familiar with a romance language, the bulk of this book is spent on the tricky (and vital) area of verb conjugations. Chapter one opens with “basic Italian,” then chapter two adds the concept of “one letter, one sound.” After chapter three’s examination of the “grammar basics” of “nouns, articles, and adjectives,” the rest of the book is focused on verbs and supporting parts of speech, including chapters on the verbs avere (to have) and essere (to be), numbers, time, dates, and seasons, first-conjugation verbs (-are verbs), second and third-conjugation verbs (-ere and -ire verbs), irregular verbs, prepositions, pronouns, impersonal forms, and “useful verb constructions,” past tenses (the passato prossimo, the imperfect, and the trapassato prossimo), the gerund (along with negative expressions, relative pronouns), the future tense, imperative mood, and exclamations (che cassino–what a mess!), the conditional mode and causative constructions (where someone does something for the subject of the sentance–like someone fixing your car or building your house), the passato remoto and the subjective, and a closing chapter on “survival phrases.”
The book as a whole is very competently written, but most of the book seems a bit too dry for most readers, as if it were a book written for people from the State Department learning languages in a hurry rather than a book written for a mass audience of people curious in Italian culture and language and wishing to learn the language a little. As a result, this book can only receive a tepid recommendation–it is informative, but it’s not nearly as enjoyable to read as some of its competitors in the language book market. It’s a book that is easy to appreciate, but hard to really enjoy or love.