Committed to Print: Literary Tattoos

Saturday, November 27th, 2010

When I wrote a mini history of literary tattoos for The Believer, I explored images dreamed up by writers from Melville to Elmore Leonard. The authors of The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos for Bookworms Worldwide present just the opposite: literary passages (and a few author portraits) on skin. They also deliver one of the better book trailers of late (a refreshing departure from the gimmicky, low content schlock floating around Youtube), and their web site confirms this trend is flourishing.

But to be fair, they’re a little late to the game: In 2007, Jen Grantham began posting literary tattoos (spanning Dickens, Bukowski, and Dr. Seuss), with commentary, on her (now defunct) blog Contrariwise: Literary Tattoos, and Ina Saltz’ Body Type books feature literary excerpts as well.

If The Word Made Flesh is any gauge, men’s words make better flesh:only about ten percent of the literary tattoos in it were inspired by women (and Vonnegut’s “So it goes” is a chart topper in this subculture wherever you track it). But throw in Shelley Jackson, who has inked 553 people with individual words from her 2095-word short story, “Skin” (a kind of on-demand, direct-to-wearer publishing project) and the scales tip back again.