Note: this post is an attempt to further explain my own reviewing style and is 100% my personal opinion. I am not asking anyone to agree with me, and it is not a critique or attack on people who have different views.
Objectivity is a myth. Or perhaps it would be better put like this: life is subjective. To explain why I believe this, I want to first step away from books and reviews, and talk about culture. When I studied culture as part of my Master’s degree, it became apparent that our culture shapes who we are and how we think (the same could be said for language; but language and culture are virtually inseparable). With my upbringing in the US*, no matter how much I know about my students’ countries, it is impossible for me to comprehend what my students are going through. I have studied traditional Muslim cultures, for example, and I understand how segregated they are, how the female/male dynamic is set up, and how these things can affect a student’s experience in an American school. But my instincts and thoughts are American in nature, and book knowledge alone is not going to help me counteract that. I can be understanding, yes. But both what drives me and what I expect from people are dictated by the environment and society in which I grew up. In other words, I can’t separate my culture from who I am and what I believe. This means that no matter what I do or think, I am inherently biased by my American upbringing.
Even more than being American, my experiences as a person also influence how I view the world. No matter what I do, I am biased in some way. Bias here is not negative; it simply is. Understanding that bias exists is the first step in diminishing its power. How this pertains to how I approach book reviewing is quite simple: I can never be objective when reading a book. I have too many biases to be objective. What I can do, however, is identify my biases in my review to explain why I felt the way I did about a certain book.
If objectivity existed, each book would be good or bad, and everyone would agree on whether that book was good or bad. But guess what: we don’t agree. You don’t have to go very far to see that people disagree (often times vehemently and angrily) about what constitutes a good book. Even professional critics disagree over various books. Every field has disagreements over which theories are the correct ones. If objectivity existed, there wouldn’t be disagreements, because objectively, there would only be one choice that makes logical sense.
My reviews are entirely my own subjective opinion. There is no objectivity. I do, however, explain why I think what I do. This allows me to identify my biases and give my opinion context. I dislike love triangles, for example, so if I dislike a book because it has one, I will state this clearly. This tells people who do enjoy love triangles that it might be a book for them. Explaining my opinion is not being objective. It does, however, make it easier for the reader of my review to determine why I liked the book and whether the book might be for them. As such, my books reviews are personal reactions and the reasons behind those reactions. If I say that a book is good, it means that it was a good book for me and for a specific set of reasons. Someone else may like the same book for different reasons, or hate the same book for the same reasons I loved the book. And that is subjectivity at its finest.
*I grew up in the suburbs as part of a white, middle-class family. This is NOT the only culture in the US, but it is the one that I had, and when I mention my “American” bias, it is the white, middle-class, suburban culture to which I refer.