However, the fact that we learned nothing about Picard's missing 9 years in the show was itself one of the main reasons I chose to avoid giving him more ship commands.
Indeed, and I completely respect your choices for the book. It's just that I like to argue that in general, we shouldn't shy away from giving a starship captain starships to command, and Picard need not absolutely
be an exception to that.
Apparently, losing ships and being court-martialed for it is "standard procedure" for Starfleet, so Picard's career as starship skipper shouldn't have come to a grinding halt with the Battle of Maxia. And it still strikes me as somewhat unbelievable that the Federation Flagship would be given to a guy who for the past nine years has not
been part of the core world political intrigue or, alternately or in addition, shown consistent or improving skill in commanding starships.
Not having to deal with Cardassians would probably not be that unusual, considering how much O'Brien's "border wars" sounded like a distant and largely forgotten conflict in "The Wounded". What may have looked like a major war to the Cardassian side probably didn't involve all that many starships on the Federation side... Talarians would probably be similar bit players. And everybody everywhere seemed ignorant of the Ferengi, fearful of the Klingons or confused and wary about the Romulans during the early TNG years; experience, quite clearly, was a rare commodity in Starfleet.
I admit, though, that it was a bit jarring when this old, balding and greying guy did not
launch into a reverie of "I remember back when I commanded the Pathfinder
, or was it the Stargazer
, well, never mind, but my first, wait, my second
officer said..." whenever they ran into an opponent, event or location that was new to the audience.