Thanks to all who commented on my earlier post about using "I" in book reviewing; you really got me thinking.
There was so much generative feedback in fact that I think a follow-up post is warranted. I don't have a single argument to make here as previously, so let me just address some of the things you guys said.
1. Greg wrote: "Our jobs are to find the middle ground between Kakutani and "It didn't grab my attention, so I hated it"
Maybe I framed this wrong, but I didn't mean to suggest that using the first-person to discuss books forecloses the possibility of thinking about them seriously. In fact, I would very much like to see rigorous, provocative book discussion that manages to be intimate and "personal" (more on this word in a minute). The problem, as I see it, is that so many bloggers who claim to be reviewing books are using the personal nature of blogging to absolve themselves of any responsibility to the text in front of them.
2. Amanda wrote: " I tend to err on the side of "I hated it because Heathcliff is a wanker," but the people who read my blog have a pretty good sense of my sensibilities."
I might be wrong about this, but I have always considered Dead White Guys a bit of a satire of book blogging in general. (Is this something you ever thought about consciously, Amanda?) I tend not to learn very much about the books, but reading her critiques are funny in their own right.
3. Teresa wrote: "I'm all for celebrating our subjectivity and owning our biases ('cause we all have them)"
Teresa is on to something here. The cultural dominance of self-awareness about subjectivity is partially to blame for the infestation of reactive writing in book blogging, in student writing as Heather notes, and the wider world. Unfortunately, our training to speak from the I and to speak only for ourselves has brought along with it a disregard for persuasion and generous analysis, of showing our readers why we think the things we think. If my sensibility is irredeemably idiosyncratic, the logic goes, then there is no reason to explain it, because your subjectivity will be different anyway. This is a rationalization that abdicates thinking and explanation.
4. Sian wrote: "What are blogs for? I suppose to express your feelings and it shouldn't matter how you do it!"
Couple of points here. While I would never try to diagnose the proper use of blogs, I do think that Sian's sense that blogging is to "express your feelings" is rampant. That's fine. My question is "why should I care about your feelings?" And, of course it matters how you do it. Do you express yourself honestly? with empathy for others? with generosity toward your readers? for personal monetary gain? to beat back loneliness? The "how" matters a great deal. I want to the the "how" of book blogging be serious, entertaining, intimate, provocative, and diverse. I want it to enrich not only my own reading life, but the reading lives of everyone. If book blogging is largely individual reaction, I do not think it will play the kind of role in supporting literary culture that it could. And this would be a material loss.
5. Jackie wrote: "I don't expect book blogs to perform deep analysis of a book - all I want to know is whether or not the person enjoyed reading it...there's a book blog out there for everyone."
Perhaps I did come down a little strong. I agree that a diversity of book blogs is both desirable and beneficial. That said, I'm not sure that most book blogs are all that different from each other. Nor did I mean to suggest that all reviews need to "deep analysis": what I do think a responsible book review should do is provide evidence for the judgment/opinion. If you aren't doing that, you aren't reviewing; you are just giving a rating. And there's a place for that, of course. But when we mistake that for "reviewing" or "discussion," then we impoverish both terms.
6. Christina wrote: "To those of you who say you like the "I love it" blogs - there is a place for them in the wide scope of "reviews", but how is a blog reader supposed to determine what the blogger's sensibilities are without any depth?"
If one function of a review is to serve as a recommendation (or lack thereof), then establishing your reading sensibilities is crucial. As Christina suggests, this is very difficult to do unless your reader has a wide set of your reviews to compare against their own taste. One thing more sustentative reviewing does is provide a reader-reviewer connection in the space of one review. If you can manage to say interesting things about a book, I don't need to see the scope of your opinions to be persuaded.
This leads me to another point: the overuse of "reaction" reviewing flattens the possibilities of what a review can do to one thing: help a reader decide if they should read the book under discussion. I think that is an important part of the process, but by no means the only or even the most important goal of reviewing.