The Cover of My Upcoming Book

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Ever since I started blogging in 2005 I’ve been talking about my Östergötland project, where I’ve been chasing the elite of the mid-to-late 1st millennium in one of Sweden’s richest agricultural provinces. This project has produced a number of journal papers, talks, radio appearances, archive reports and additions to museum collections. But there hasn’t been a book (though Dear Readers John Massey and Deborah Sabo have helped copy-edit a manuscript).

Soon there will be one.

I’m very pleased to be able to show you its cover, designed by Tina Hedh-Gallant (who is also laying out the contents) around a photograph by James P. Wilby.

The title is Mead-halls of the Eastern Geats, the ISBN 978-91-7402-405-0, and the book will be published by the Royal Swedish Academy of Letters in its venerable Proceedings series. It is a considerable source of pride to me that I get to share a billing with the people who have put out books in that series since 1789.

I finished correcting the first set of PDF proofs today. We’re printing 400 copies, due out for the Göteborg Book Fair on 22-25 September where I’ll be on stage, and six months later the Academy will also publish the whole thing for free on the web as an Open Access book.

My doctoral thesis treated a similar theme, powerful people in the mid-to-late 1st millennium. But since those lived on the island of Gotland, most colleagues working with similar issues on the mainland have not had reason to use that pair of volumes. I believe the new book will have a considerably wider appeal both within and without the archaeological profession.

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Restaurant Engrish

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“Lie Fallow” means “in your spare time, without a prior appointment” in Engrish.

Everybody loves Engrish, the surreal dialect of English found on signs, in menus, on clothing etc. in the Far East. Much of it seems to stem from blind over-use of dictionaries, where the non-Anglophone user picks one of the possible translations of a term at random. Here are a few examples I’ve caught recently at restaurants.

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The breakfast menu at our hotel in Hecheng had some fine variations on rice porridge and its condiments.

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Boardgaming Groups and Game Stores

Listening to the Dice Tower and Spiel podcasts and reading forum entries on Boardgame Geek, I’ve come across two central aspects of US boardgaming culture that have me kind of baffled. One is the ubiquity of open-to-all gaming groups, and the other is the emphasis on the FLGS, the Friendly Local Gaming Store.

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To begin with the gaming groups, to me gaming is something I do with my friends at our houses – usually mine. The varying cast of gamers having tea at my table once a week are my guests. A recent Dice Tower episode (#205), however, featured a long discussion about what to do if your gaming group gets saddled with a member that nobody wants to play with. These club-like US groups seem to convene on public premises – universities, church basements, pubs, game stores – and while pretty much anybody can get in, there’s no accepted way to kick obnoxious characters out. I’ve never had that problem. If I invited someone I didn’t know well and they didn’t turn out to my liking, I’d just never invite them again. (Both of the two gamer friends I’ve picked up blindly from web forums are lovely people and I invite them all the time.)

I wrote to the Dice Tower about this and they kindly replied to my question on the show. The main reason the show hosts mentioned for organising public gaming groups is basically about evangelism: they want to get new people into the hobby. Part of their motivation seems to be that they want to increase demand for boardgames, ensuring that more and better games will be published in the future. This is unimportant to me. Even if no more boardgames came out starting tomorrow, it would take me decades to play through the thousands of good ones that have already been published.

I’m thinking that maybe those open-to-all gaming groups exist because few people are like me. Maybe there aren’t enough hosts. If there were a gregarious guy in every gamer’s area who was happy to have people over all the time, then only the problematic characters discussed on the Dice Tower would have to join open groups. Of course, to anyone with a family, the spouse has to be OK with it too. And my wife seems happy with the setup. Typically she’ll just greet everybody when they arrive and then spending the evening at the piano or computer or TV or reading while we play games peacefully for a few hours. She’s happy that I’m happy, and she greatly prefers having me around over me spending one evening every weekend away from home. Me, I really don’t enjoy late-night train rides either, so I’m glad the game comes to me instead of me going to the game.

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Then there are those stores. Before the Internet, I cared about game stores because that was the only place I could find out about games and buy them. (The Tradition store that I frequented in its Storgatan and HumlegÃ¥rdsgatan locations in Stockholm during the 80s was never particularly friendly though. There was this tall blond store clerk who clearly A: was not a gamer, and B: did not particularly enjoy talking to enthusiastic kobolds.) But for 15 years I’ve learned about and bought my books, games and software over the net. I don’t like spending time in stores. To me, a high-street shop is just an unnecessary price-raising link in the logistical chain between the manufacturer and me. And brick & mortar shopping is a huge time sink compared to ordering stuff from my desk. The only time I buy games or books over the counter is in the rare case when I need a present for someone and have forgotten to order in time.

With this attitude, you’ll understand that I’m horrified by the thought of spending hours playing games in a store. But that is apparently common in the US. The smarter store owners seem to realise though that boardgamers aren’t really worth hosting, since we can play for hours without buying anything. The money is in collectible cardgames such as Magic: The Gathering, where a player’s success correlates strongly with the amount of money he spends on cards. But even when the shopkeeper does oblige – why spend your free time in a store? Or on a mall concourse, for that matter…

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So, my recipe for better boardgaming is this.

1. Learn about games and buy them on-line.
2. Keep a list of your favourite local gamers.
3. Send out text-message or e-mail invitations on, like, a Wednesday morning for people to come over on Saturday. As the replies come in, keep poking people on your list until you have the requisite number of pledges. (I usually go for three guests with my kids as extras.)
4. Keep some simple stats on what percentage of your invitations a given friend has accepted. You’ll soon see which ones are worth asking, which saves time and avoids mutual embarrassment. Bachelors/ettes are the most dependable ones.

Cooped Up in Hotel Room

Dear Reader, it’s raining in Hangzhou and I am not well. I have had the shits since Wednesday evening, some headache, and last night I seem to have had a fever. Both of the latter problems are kept at bay by wonderful ibuprophene. I was fully active and enjoyed myself Thursday and Friday. But I’m spending Saturday in my hotel room, with Junior in his across the hallway, because he’s not in great shape either.

I have just finished proof-reading a large chunk of my Östergötland book, mainly killing mishyphenations, though I had to stop for an hour’s nap while the latest ibup pill took hold. I’m thinking of going to the nearby supermarket with Junior to get some sweetened soy milk and other victuals, and also of starting packing, since tomorrow we go home to Sweden. It’s been great here, but two weeks is too long for a vacation. I need to prepare for test pitting in the Pukbergsgrottan cave and call landowners for test pitting in wetlands during July. I’m very happy that at least I’ve been able to stay on top of my email here.

How are you spending your Saturday?