The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos Abound

I've been a long-time follower of the blog Contrariwise, which posts regular updates of reader-submitted literary tattoos. From illustrations to quotes to punctuation marks, bookworms seem as fond of ink on bodies as they are of ink on the page. Yours truly is no exception; I've been planning for years how to fit in another tattoo, this one a literary quote.

Back in October, the Montreal Gazette ran an article about the rise of literary-themed tattoos. Tess Adamski, a Montreal resident, has over 20 tattoos of Kerouac quotes:
"The physical step of ink . . . (gives) the feeling that you're literally enveloping yourself in a book... It's a powerful and comforting process."
See? As fond of ink on skin as of ink on paper.

And now that ink on skin has found its way into ink on paper, with Harper Perennial's release of The World Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. Personally, I'm intrigued by the book, as much for information as inspiration. But I'm also wondering aloud to the bookworm community: is this trend a sign that bookishness is on the rise? Suddenly, or once again, something to boast publicly? Or is it pretentiousness? Somewhere in between? What do you all make of this display of book love?


  1. First of all, can't wait to see what you think of Garp :)

    Secondly, I have my lovely semicolon tattoo and I usually get a mix of responses, some from the literary lovers that are pure admiration. And others who are not don't really get it. I have to explain the non-literary reason for it (still it's based on the grammatical use of the semicolon, so they have to sort of understand that part of it) before they admit it's kind of cool.

    I have definitely gotten responses that it's a pretentious tattoo though. I just shake my head - they don't get it.

  2. I have no tattoos (yet) but I love the idea of a literary one. I just have trouble deciding what I would get.

    What literary quote are you thinking of going for?

    I don't know if this is a trend that bookishness is on the rise or that tattoos are losing even more of the negative stigma so more and more people are willing to get them, bookish people being less likely to get inked in the past.

  3. Rachel - So far, I love it! And I also love your semicolon tattoo. I forgot you had that. My best friend has an ampersand on the back of her arm; I think punctuation marks can say an awful lot in one little space. Think you'll get more?

    Red - I have two, both small, but I think they are addictive. I have been toying with "Curioser and curioser" for some time, but I'm not convinced I want a third (yet), or where I'd put it.

    I like your take on the rise, too. Tattoos are definitely losing some of their stigma, and more and more people have just one or two small but visible ones. I have one on my wrist and it has never proved to be a problem or raised eyebrows.

  4. I, myself, have several tattoos. The pieces that feature words, or phrases, have become a constant source of questioning. I can only imagine what it must be like for individuals that are covered by whole paragraphs. You'd literally be read like a book. A good way to spread the love of literature, I guess.

    I wouldn't say that literary tattoos are a sign of the rise of the bookworm, necessarily. Honestly, I feel that people have always lined thier bodies with literary ink, but the decline of tattoo as taboo makes exhbiting such work more easily digested. Many of my friends, who have more areas of ink than of bare skin, have numerous literary tattoos and have had them for quite some time.

    As for pretension, I feel that a tattoo is expression. People receive ink of what they enjoy most. If it means books - let it be called pretentious. Lovely post.

  5. I'd like to get a quote from Anais Nin on my shoulder - "And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." but that's awfully long, and I'm trying to work up the courage. I also have a second tat on the inside of my wrist that's LOVE in Hebrew.

  6. Beth - Yes, long paragraphs are like being read like a book. Not something that can be absorbed in passing, for sure.

    Rachel - I love that quote! I personally don't think it's too long, although I've been cautioned that finding the right artist for words is crucial, otherwise you risk blurry letters.

  7. Some people get a semi colon to show what they have gone through with health issues like crohns and colitis. With those disease you mostlikly need surgery to remove some or all of your colon. And they would litteraly have a semi Colon.


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