[If you're coming to Stone Turntable via my Writer's Choice post about Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander — welcome.]
I’m honored to have been invited to contribute to a venerable series at a blog I deeply admire and enjoy, and so it seemed like the proper moment to launch my own series of recommendations and encomiums for websites, blogs, and online resources that I’ve found particularly valuable.
Normblog: The Weblog of Norman Geras is a long-running site (its archives stretch back to 2003) by a professor emeritus of politics at the University of Manchester who now lives in Cambridge, England. Professor Geras has written books on Rosa Luxemburg, Marxism, political philosophy, the Holocaust, and the emergence of the concept of crimes against humanity. He has also written two books on the sport of cricket.
On the companionably named Normblog, he often posts on issues of the day, politics, history, international affairs, and various public controversies and debates that reflect the preoccupations of his distinguished academic career. (Around the time of the Normblog’s birth, Professor Geras played a conspicuous role in the U.K. debate over the war in Iraq, arguing from the left in favor of military intervention.) Recently, for example, he has been posting brief and shattering vignettes and anecdotes of the Holocaust under the rubric Figures From a Dark Time. But to cite only his online writing on serious and consequential matters would drastically misrepresent the wide-ranging appeal, the humane glow, the sly charm of his blog. To be sure, even when weighing in on the most wrenching and controversial topics, Professor Geras is plain-spoken and articulate, deeply informed and impeccably civil. But a high-falutin’ stuffed shirt he is not.
The secret of his blogging recipe — the magic behind the quintessential Norm-ness that is the Normblog — seems to be some ineffable balance between the above-mentioned topical posts, reflecting his role as a public intellectual; the personal posts that convey his sundry and sometimes zany enthusiasms; and the numerous posts that have transcended the solipsism of blogging by spotlighting the work of other bloggers and writers. In the case of those enthusiasms, Norm’s fandom encompasses fiction, cricket, music (Dylan, Emmylou Harris, and songs that reference geographical place names are among his faves), and Wife Of Norm (or WoN, the author Adèle Geras). Also, inexplicably and deliriously, Norm really, really loves soap.
In the third category, Norm’s generous and welcoming interest in other voices and writers have produced Normblog’s splendid Writer’s Choice series (contributors have included Christopher Hitchens, Val McDermid, Alain de Botton, and Walter Laqueur) and the Normblog profile series of questionnaire posts featuring a panoply of other bloggers. (Here’s a time-capsule snapshot of then-rookie Andrew Sullivan answering the call in 2004.)
Normblog, then, is my principal inspiration for this Net Stars series (I considered naming these posts, in the spirit of emulation, “I Wanna Be Your Blog”), and for evincing a beau idéal of blogging mind, heart, and soul, is the first recommended site on my list.