Reviewed: “The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide”

You might be a good Jew who doesn’t want tattoos, but you can still admire this book of skin art inspired by literature. Read More

By / November 24, 2010

2010, Harper Perennial

Edited by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Tattoos, once worn by sailors, bikers, and later by punks, thugs, and other outcasts as marks of allegiance to cultures outside of the norm, have become ubiquitous throughout every social circle. The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide, edited by up and coming young writers, Eva Talmadge and Big Jewcy alumni Justin Taylor, showcases the inked literary sect, including over 150 color images of tattoos that pay homage to works by authors as diverse as Blake, and Bukowski, Joyce and Sendak.

The tattoos featured in The Word Made Flesh vary vastly in terms of style and content. There are quotes paired with children’s book illustrations—some crude and some beautiful and vivid. There is a beautifully rendered Franz Kafka sleeve with a portrait of the author, skulls, quotes, bugs, and books. Alongside wolves and apples signifying a mother’s love for the Twilight series, there are “wild things” and stacks of books tattooed on English teachers. There is Katharine Barthelme’s tribute to her father, and Tao Lin’s tattoo of the creatures he signs his books with.

There is a profile of author Mary Shelley’s project, “Skin,” in which volunteers have randomly selected words from Shelley’s story tattooed on them. She began the project in 2003 and, since then, over 10,000 people have volunteered to have assigned words tattooed on them to spell out a 2,095-word story on their bodies. When those bearing the words die, the story does as well.

This mortality of the flesh as opposed to the enduring quality of text makes an interesting statement on the permanence of tattoos. Perhaps the most intriguing part of tattoos, and that which continues to imbibe them with a sense of rebelliousness is their permanence. Many of the stories and poems the tattoos featured in The Word Made Flesh pay tribute to have and will continue to endure well after the tattoos and those who wear them have come and gone.