Re-reading some old favourites lately, I have been struck by the differences in the degree of description. One of the books was so spare that little more than a single line was offered to describe new characters on introduction, and then only a repeat of this key image when they appeared at other times (yes the exact same one, over and over). Balance is everything - but I like a little more than this.
I guess 'less is more' is often a good rule to follow. The problem is things like that can be very hard to judge. This particular author had removed a lot of the casual description and attribution you might find between dialogue. That's fine from the PoV of the author, but what seems alive and accented to the peculiar viewpoint and personality of the character within the author's mind can read very flat indeed to an objective reader. In this case I found that the scenes dominated with dialogue offered me very little. I could not tell from the dialogue whether the character was being sharp, dim, sarcastic, excited or whatever - and there was not enough else to propel the story.
I know that very clever writers can manage to convey all this personality through the dialogue itself in the absence of all but the most minimal attribution.
For myself, I am very tolerant of description. I like to get atmosphere. I like to get a direct line to what the character is feeling. What starts to gripe me is long backstory infills on the geopolitical setting, or scenes that seem to have no point - except the fact that I am supposed to be in so in love with the character I really want to see them walk through the docks for two pages.
So what are your thoughts? How much description is enough? And how do you tell? Is it even possible, or do we all need a savvy test reader?