Book Review: The Word Made Flesh, edited by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

Filled with photos and personal stories, The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide has not only direct quotes, but tattoos that involve portraiture, illustrations and even simple punctuation marks. It’s a beautiful tribute to the written word.

There are enough variations on typewriter-style fonts alone to make me start considering new projects. Some of the images are of typewriters themselves, and it takes me back to learning to type on a machine that weighed more than I did.

The World Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos From Bookworms Worldwide edited by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor

I find a certain loveliness to words inked on the body, and a tattoo with a great font will likely grab my attention before an image. Three of my tattoos are black text — though two are in Sanskrit and therefore unreadable to most people — and sometimes I find myself noticing fonts and thinking, “I should match a tattoo with this lettering.” Strangely, it had never occurred to me until recently to have a literary-themed tattoo. Despite my trade, unless it’s words from my own work, I tend to think of lyrics first. That said, The Word Made Flesh will certainly inspire anyone who loves both reading and tattoos to start thinking about what words they would display permanently. I’ve never read more than a few excerpts of Ulysses, but there’s something great about having the words, “Yes, I said. Yes I will yes,” written somewhere on one’s body.

I like the sexy librarian, the Dewey decimal system numbers, the complete text of “For Marcel Proust” by Theodore Adrorno transcribed across one man’s back.

Not all the tattoos are gems — I have to admit, the Twilight sleeves and Harry Potter logo neck-tattoo made me roll my eyes a bit, but really, I’m the last person who should be judging intense preoccupations. Anything that sounded too much like an uninspired high school senior quote, I wondered how much personal meaning the words really had to the tattoo recipient. Sure, “To thine ownself be true” comes from Shakespeare, but it’s sort of like the literary version of picking flash art from the parlor wall.

I suspect that this much text shoved together is going to get a little unreadable over time, but initially, it does look cool.

Though this book is not at all heavy reading, I certainly recommend it as thinking material. Is it worth the $15 cover price? I don’t know — that depends on your love of tattoos more than it does literature, I think. Perhaps it’s more of a book you buy as a gift for others. Still, it’s always interesting to hear the stories behind why people choose to decorate their bodies in the way that they do, though I imagine that for any living writer, seeing their words as tattoos must be both bizarre and flattering.

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Do you have a bookish tattoo? If you were to have a literary tattoo, what would you get?

A previous version of this review originally appeared at Glorified Love Letters.

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Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

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