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Welcome to my new book review column for TWIC. First, let me briefly introduce myself. I am an International Master and author of various chess books (18 at last count, with 1 in the pipeline). I work as a chess teacher and read a lot of chess books, two activities which should be useful for a reviewer. As a writer, I also have some insight into how books are put together and which audiences are being addressed; hopefully, I can use my experience to help TWIC readers get an idea of what a given book offers. I'd like to take advantage of this introduction to talk about my philosophy of reviewing and what I look for in a chess book. I suspect that many of my reviews will be on the favorable side; it's more fun to write about the books you like, after all, and there are plenty of good ones out there. But I will also entertain the reader with periodic shreddings, since I know that this is what most people secretly enjoy (come on, admit it!), and since some books simply deserve to be savaged. Remember that unlike some publications and online sites, I am not simply listing all the new books being sold by my source and giving them mindless praise; rather, I will choose examples of books about which I think the reader could use some insight.
What qualities will I be looking for in a chess book?
Above all, I'd like to see some investment of time and energy by the author. It's pretty easy to tell how much effort has been put into a book; I have little patience with database dumps or cut-and-paste jobs, and will periodically point these out. Some openings books and games collections, for example, would take me literally less than a day to write at home on my computer, including the time to print myself a copy with diagrams. Such books a disgrace. Sure, everyone doesn't have a computer with a database program (although most people know someone who does), and you might think that you're paying for someone else to organize the material; but even if you buy that rather strained argument, publishers are charging way too much for such mindless copying of material.
Secondly, it would be nice to find some original ideas and analysis in a book. Why this is too much to expect has never been clear to me; but a meaningful percentage of chess books have either no original analysis or some negligible amount (e.g., in one or two of the author's own games). It particularly irks me that other player's analysis is constantly given without acknowledgment, which misleads most readers into thinking they a reading the author's own notes. Some opening books by grandmasters, for example, are chock full of suggestions; but then when you go to your Informant database, you realize that literally none of them are the author's! I will point this out in my reviews. Third, the chess analysis should be reasonably accurate. While it's far better to have a lot of original ideas and suggestions with a small number of errors than no original material at all, there's a point at which too much careless analysis can ruin a book.
Then there are a series of only slightly less essential qualities I look for, such as: (a) a good writing style (readability and clarity are the main criteria); (b) a sense of energy or even passion associated with the writing; (c) attention to detail; (d) intelligent guidance, i.e., when principles and advise are presented, they should be useful and relevant; (e) a good balance of prose and analysis (especially in instructional books; but this varies with the intent of the book); (f) production value, which for me applies mainly to ease of assimilation (good diagrams, easily distinguished variations, a minimal number of egregious typos, etc.).
If all goes as planned, you'll be finding out more about my preferences and pet peeves as you read my reviews. I probably won't talk much about the prices of books, by the way, unless they are completely off the map or remarkably low. Thanks to Mark Crowther for allowing me to try out this idea.