Francis Bacon – the philosopher, not the painter – famously wrote that ”[s]ome books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.” Different books require different things from us, and they promise different delights. While he was not thinking of chess books, I’m sure, his statement holds for them as well.
Jacob Aagaard’s GM Preparation series, for example, is a set of books that must be chewed and digested if their ameliorative powers is to be loosed. You can’t just breeze through these books. You have to do the work and solve the problems. A quick skim just won’t suffice.
Other books can be read in parts. MCO might fit the bill here, or Muller’s Fundamental Chess Endings might too. Here you can dip in and out, checking a variation as needed, or perhaps trying to tease out the inner logic of some theoretical endgame.
Then there are books like Hans Ree’s My Chess. This is a book to be savored, a book that can re-awaken the dormant love of Caissa in our hearts. It is a literary version of Orhan Pamuk’s Memory Palace, as Ree sketches (in alphabetical order) a panoply of his most treasured memories in and of chess. From “A6648,” the most active chessplayer in Internet (and possibly world) history, through “Donald Duck” (the Dutch magazine about the sprightly bird), and down to “Berry Withius,” Ree takes us to visit chess clubs past and chess friends now gone. In each short section Ree delves into memory and introduces us to someone or something worth knowing about.
His sketch of Hans Aalmoes, early chess compatriot, evokes quite well the early and all-encompassing love of chess that many of us have felt. His elegy for Tabe Bas is poignant and lovely, and it made me wish that I’d known Tabe too. Prins, despite his flaws and prickly nature, is given honest and fair treatment, and the sketch of Tartakower, personal and comprehensive all at once, is among the best I’ve seen. I was particularly glad to see the famous – to readers of Chess Chow, anyway! – Dutch IM Bert Enklaar mentioned in these pages. (A full rendering of Enklaar can be found in Ree’s previous book, The Human Comedy of Chess, now available in Kindle format. or in a piece salvaged from the Russell-Chesscafe split via The Wayback Machine.)
Each section ranges from two through ten or so pages in length, making this an ideal book to take on trips or to the DMV. You can read a sketch or two, put the book down, and pick it up again later. You’ll want to pick it up again, too, if you’re anything like me.
Hans Ree’s My Chess is not a book that will improve your chess. It might, however, remind you why you took the game up in the first place. Ultimately, I suspect that the latter will not only enable the former, but it will lead you to enjoy working on (thinking on, dreaming on) your chess a bit more too. Highly, highly recommended.