The Word Made Flesh, compiled by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, is a collection of photographs of over 150 literature-inspired tattoos from people all over the world. Some of the photographs come with long explanations that explain the owner’s reason for getting their tattoo(s), while others simply come with the person’s name, location, and title of the piece of literature that inspired their tattoo. The tattoos range from things like a punctuation mark or a single word written in a small classic font to highly elaborate, colorful illustrations that cover large portions of their owner’s body. The tattoos are so different, the stories behind them are so personal, and the reader’s perceptions of each tattoo are so subjective, that it makes The Word Made Flesh kind of a hard book to review (but in a good way!).
In their introduction, the authors(? compilers? people who spearheaded this lovely project?) say that they wanted the book to read like a mix tape; everything is organized according to Talmadge’s and Taylor’s whim, rather than by author or genre: poetry-inspired tattoos are mixed in with fiction, Latin and Old English verses are mixed in with contemporary languages, children’s book illustrations are mixed in with publisher logos…and a stanza by William Blake is nestled up against an illustration inspired by the Twilight series. (Here’s where the subjectivity comes in: I shudder to think of people walking around with little Twilight tattoos, much less Twilight sleeves.)
For the most part I like the layout of the book, though I wish every photo had a blurb on the background of the tattoo. One of my favorite sections was on Shelley Jackson’s “Skin” project. In 2003, Jackson began looking for volunteers who would have one word of her short story, “Skin,” tattooed on their bodies. She has since accepted about 1,875 applicants and has had more than 10,000 people volunteer to take part in her project, even though there are only 2,095 slots available. Demonology author Rick Moody is one of the participants and is featured in the book showing off his “here,” tattoo.
I’ve always loved looking at people’s tattoos and learning the stories behind them, but I’ve never gotten a tattoo myself because, to be perfectly honest, “what if it looks gross when I’m old?” always pops into my head. So I admire these people–even Twilight sleeve lady–for committing and taking their inspirations to the next level, because a lot of thought went into most of these tattoos. It makes me want my own literary tat (at least until the aforementioned question pops into my head).
For those of you scratching your heads and wondering what literary tattoos look like, the authors have created a photo blog, tattoolit.com, where they’re posting people’s literary tattoo submissions daily. The Word Made Flesh was released on October 12, 2010.