Book Review: English Bites
Are you one of those wandering souls longing to have proficiency in English language but the ghost of which continue to scare you away…then English Bites is the book for you. It is surely for all those who swear to have been smitten and bitten by English – smitten as being sincerely wanting to conquer the phobia of the language and bitten by being lost in the vicious circle of making an attempt to overcome the phobia & becoming more intrigued by its manner. Before going further into the synopsis of the book, it would be worthwhile for me to make a confession…I was not really motivated to read this book as I have never found those self help books my cup of tea. But before choosing this book for review I had limited choices, as it was my 1st month as a Book Critic at TTP, so I opted for this one. But now I think, opting for this one was indeed a blessing in disguise.
Manish Gupta’s English Bites is the author’s sincere attempt to open a whole new world of WORDS to the aspirants of English language who have more often than not found themselves progressing in the vernacular domain despite having an inherent desire to marvel at the language. This autobiographical journey of author with the language has been categorized into various chapters from the author’s life, each dealing with a step by step transformation of him from a novice scholar to a proficient English professional.
English bites takes off just before the author’s admission to Punjab Engineering college from his hometown Rohtak where the most preferred mode of conversation and teaching by the teachers was vernacular, something which didn’t make any difference at that point of time but created a void in the student’s mind of the alien language called English, the void which became all the more evident later when they stepped out for further studies. With admission to engineering in one of the state’s prestigious colleges, the desire to marvel at the language became intense and it was then that his affair with the language actually started, with him making all possible moves to impress his girlfriend but the latter always outsmarting him by her intrigue manners and word power.
This period of courtship continued through-out the engineering years and spilled over to his management days & job period too. During this period, his proximity with the language certainly increased as many new words and techniques were discovered by him through his own dedicated efforts and also through the guidance of his seniors and his friends. Though, the learning curve attained continued to strengthen his bond with the language, the vicious circle of seduction and out-smarting still continued. The author also makes a reference to various junctures when his instinctive techniques to interpret the words and their meanings have gone terribly wrong thereby embarrassing him immensely. For instance, the word limpid, which he construed as something linked to limp actually turned out to mean clear & unclouded. Likewise, his first instinct to the word apologia was something related to statement of apology, asking for forgiveness (as the word appears to have its root in apology) but proved him wrong as the word actually means defending something you strongly believe.
The book also has dedicated chapters for various new words relating to distinct fields which the author intelligently gels within the overall structure of the book. For instance, while talking about his stint in the corporate world in a multinational bank, he dedicates one chapter Capital Square – to acquaint the reader with words relating to the finance world. Similarly, in one of the chapters titled Tummy Tuck, he talks about words related to dishes and restaurants.
My first impression of a book is formed by its cover and it is heartening to say that English Bites delivers on that front. The title of the book English Bites – My Fullproof English Learning Formula (with Fullproof encircled in red !!) suits the book well as it is intended to provide pearls of wisdom to those who have been smitten and bitten by the language. The point to be noted here is that the author has intentionally termed the tagline of this book as My FULLPROOF English Learning Formula and not FOOLPROOF which again is indicative of what lies within the book. The cover page of the book featuring a caricature of a person lost amidst the pile of books seemingly making a desperate attempt to grasp the language adds to the interest of the reader.
The blurb for the book claims that English bites will expand your vocabulary and improve your verbal ability in English by adding over 1000 new words to your vocabulary and the book delivers exactly what it says. The author has indeed been kind enough to assimilate his entire learning and techniques to master the English language & weave out a masterpiece sprinkled with adequate dosage of humour and wit to make the whole learning experience a joy ride for the reader.
The book’s uniqueness lies not only in the words it attempts to add to your vocabulary but in the footnotes included at all relevant places (interestingly you will find it almost on every page) which spells out the meaning along with usage examples. This proves to be of great help to the reader especially as it absolves the need of having a dictionary along-side while reading the book; the fact that these are given on every relevant page (instead of giving at the end of the book or chapter) acts as an icing on the cake. It eases the dislike I had (for that matter, I still have) for the simple act of looking for a word’s meaning in the dictionary and the disruption it causes when I am in the middle of reading something .
The author also sprinkles the book with various snippets regarding the origin and derivation of words and reference to special categories of words like Alliterations, Contronyms, Palindromes etc. adds to the overall learning experience of the reader. Here I would like to mention one of the many interesting snippets which the author has included. The Palindromes (mentioned above) is used to refer to words which read same from left to right & right to left. The interesting thing which the author draws out here is that the term used for fear of palindromes is aibohphobia which in itself is a palindrome.
Relevant dosage of humour is a regular in the book which further juices up the whole learning experience. I am reproducing one of my favourites from the book, which still gives me a smile:
While sharing a cozy corner with her current heartthrob, Sarah suddenly held John’s hand and looking up, announced: ‘The firmament is azure, let’s go to the shore.’ At first, he was not sure what she was suggesting. And just as they reached the destination, the firmament began to roar, and they were caught in a downpour. While running to find some shelter, she suddenly stopped him and looking into his eyes, said, ‘Let’s get bedraggled.’
“Poor John was unable to decide if it really was a flirtatious overture (courtesy the ‘bed’ in bedraggled) or if she meant something else. By a mischance, he decided to go with his initial hunch, and the stinging slap he received ensured that for the rest of his life he would remember that to get bedraggled is to get drenched in water.”
The only flip side to the book, if I may call it that, is this book is intended to study and not read. The ideal way to read and imbibe this book is to read it slowly in a phased manner (may be a chapter at a time), giving due time to absorb & retain the information. Once you have completed it cover-to-cover, the book demands to be picked up once again after few days to be re-studied and then again after a few days.
Though there are no apparent negatives in the book which warrants specific mentions, there are few observations which I would like to dwell upon:
Some of the topics in the book appeared a bit too stretched and too descriptive (particularly in the latter half of the book) making the content dragged at some places & consequently extending the book beyond the desirable limit. Minor edits in the book would have shortened the same while maintaining the charm and learning intact. Additionally, it would be be a welcome initiative if existing chapters of the book (especially in the latter half) can be broken down into smaller chapters turning them into more accessible/ relatable pieces.
The book is a storehouse to 1000+ beads (read new words) which is threaded together on the string of the author’s story. The awesome trivia, the amazing anecdotes and the interesting blend of humor and incidents adds to the fragrance of the garland, as a whole.
Don’t read this book but study & the investment you make in purchasing this book is worth it and is a treasure for a lifetime. A must have in your collection !!
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