I went from a raw beginner to a club player of 'C' strength after only reading 3 chess books. I have since studied a number of other books and I played in a club for 2 years and have played in swiss weekened tournaments.
I learned the moves at age 12, but didn't begin to play chess until much later. A group of about 4 of my friends were bored one day and started playing chess for fun. We would stay up late at night playing until the wee hours of the morning at times. I was clearly the worse player in our group! We played hundreds of skittles games. In these games I learned Scholars Mate, Bc4/Nf7 knight forks, Nc7 forks, pawn forks, and the like. Tired of losing I bought my first chess book, "Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess" and I started winning some games. Not satisfied I learned descriptive notation and read "Logical Chess: Move by Move" by Chernev, possibly one of the best beginner books of all time. After reading this book I was the best player in our group. After finishing a 3rd book, "From Beginer to Expert in 40 Lessons" by Kostyev (now out of print a later book of his "40 Lessons for the Club Player" is aimed at class B and above) I was going all night without a loss, winning over 20 games in a row. Our chess group broke up soon after this. Seeking new challenges I played in a tournament at the local Community College (non rated) I won my first game mating with king and rook against lone king! In the 2nd round I lost to a real club player named Marty Peto, he introduced me to the world of club chess. My first tournament brought me a provisional rating of 1530p and after soon an official rating of over 1550. Its all up from there.
My simple recommendation to reach club strength is as follows:
I recently completed this book for my own study program and recommend it over other books to start a tactics study. It explains all the basic types of tactics with tests to reinforce learning.
One of the best beginner books every written. This book will jump start your chess education.
Heres some good advice. Dont waist your time studying openings. Instead understand the ideas behind the basic openings, thats all one needs to become a strong club player, or even a rated expert.
If you own a computer (which I assume you do if your reading this page) then buy a chess playing program like Chessmaster 9000 and play agaisnt some of the players rated between 1100-1600, if you are successful against these players gradually increase the rating difficulty of the players. Just remember DONT use the take back key, play "rated" games!
After finishing the above course play in a club or tournaments and achieve an official USCF/BCF rating. If your rating is below 1500 then most likely you are simply not playing enough chess, but it is possible some further study is needed. Tactics are the key:
For additional study (below 1500) I recommend the following books:
Covers 1-3 move combinations
Covers appx. 50 essential checkmating patterns.
After achieving a rating of 1500 or so you are ready to jump into Phase 2 of my study plan for the Tournament player HERE