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Literary tattoos and why I’ll never get one.

One of the cool things talked about at BEA during the 7x20x21 session was literary tattoos. I’ve long pondered getting a tattoo, and since I love books, what could be more fascinating than literary tattoos?

There’s a book coming out in October 2010 by HarperCollins entitled The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos From Bookworms Worldwide.

There is also a whole website dedicated to literary tattoos, Contrariwise.

Here’s a few literary tattoos that caught my eye from the website (clicking on the pics will take you to the post at Contrariwise from whence they came):

Those are just a few tattoos out of hundreds. If I were going to get a literary tattoo, then I would want something simple, like the tree in the third pic, but all the things I love about books are that they’ve changed my life perspective, and those things can’t be summed up in a graphic (for me). For example, one of the most mind blowing things I’ve ever read in a book came from Robert Hellenga’s The Sixteen Pleasures:

(The nun is talking about her life before she entered the convent. She and her husband had desparately wanted children but were unable to conceive.)

We had no children. That was a disappointment. Like Sarah — Abraham’s wife. We tried everything, doctors in Milan and in Switzerland, but nothing worked. I had to accept the fact that I was barren. That changed the direction of my life. What I wanted most was denied to me. You come up against something, a roadblock, you’re so sure of the direction you’re going in, the road you want to take, that it’s inconceivable. But a bridge has been washed out. You have to find some other way.

And now look. God has given me these children, my daughters, you see. I could never have foreseen it. Daughters in adundance. That’s what I wanted to say to you. People say that God works in mysterious ways when they really mean that life, or something in their own lives, doesn’t make any sense, but I think that’s wrong. I think it means that we can’t make any sense out of life until we give up our deepest hopes, until we stop trying to arrange everything to suit us. But once we do, or are forced to . . . That’s what’s mysterious.

I’m definitely not getting that tattooed on me, no matter how profoud it is for me.

Another book that had a big impact on me was The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. The lengths that people will and won’t and can’t go to for their marriage was very powerful to me. And even as profound as it was, I don’t know that I want something with such melancholy connotations as a tattoo.

I could go with something from Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love. But as much as I loved it, haven’t circus freaks tattooed on my body isn’t quite the look I’m going for.

A lot of folks seem to go for the childhood books, but, well, those aren’t what hold meaning for me. I’m sure my parents read to me, but I don’t remember it. And the first books I do remember picking up and reading on my own (very vividly) are the Babysitter’s Club books.

So then I go back to what I really love that can be represented graphically: pinup girls. I love everything vintage, and pinup girls have been a favorite of mine for 10+ years now. Every year I buy a pinup girl calendar, and for quite a few years I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a pinup girl photo shoot (and have since found Ambitious Misfit Photography (thanks, Ti!) who I will do a photo shoot with if it’s the last thing I do).

(found here)

(found here)

But getting a pinup girl tattooed somewhere is so typical, and how is it going to look in 10 years?

One of the things you’ll see girls do who are in to vintage/rockabilly stuff is have a flower behind their ear. Taking that idea to a tattoo, my friend had a little flower tattooed behind her left ear, so you only see it when she pulls her hair back, and it’s really cute! I’d do that, but I’d just be copying my friend and that feels weird.

So that’s why I’ll probably never get a tattoo. I’ve got the idea in the back of my head that maybe one day I’ll get a tattoo, so if anything ever comes to me, I’ll do it. But until then, I’ll leave my skin the way it is.

If you were going to get a tattoo, what would you get? Have you thought about getting a literary tattoo?

77 comments »

77 Responses to “Literary tattoos and why I’ll never get one.”

  1. Aerin

    I have two tattoos and plan to do more in November (best to do when I can cover the new ink to help prevent sunburn) – but a literary tattoo? Never occurred to me. Now I want one….

    [Reply]

  2. Amy

    How cool! I have a couple of tattoos – a small star on my lower back, a fish on my back with the words ‘love on’ in cursive underneath (stems from hating myself for years, and it is my constant reminder to keep loving myself and others, as that is what makes life great). I’m toying with the idea now of a map of the world on my foot.

    I love the idea of a literary tattoo that would really show the impact that reading has had, and still has, on my life, but I’ve yet to come up with something interesting :)

    For me, if I think of an idea, I usually let it sit for months or years until actually doing it – I like to be sure that it is DEFINITELY what I want to do. So much to think about with permanent body art!

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  3. Rachel

    I saw that presentation too, and I totally loved it. I have two tattoos now, both text (one is a semicolon on the back of my neck – which is also my Twitter avatar, and the other is Love in Hebrew on my wrist), and I do want several others. I’ve always loved literary tattoos and the next one I get will most likely be a quote from Anais Nin: “And then the day came with the risk to remain tight in a bud was greater than the risk it took to Blossom.” Now my conundrum is where to put it.

    I also really want to get an ampersand on my lower back, and I’ve gotten feedback from several friends who also want ampersands. But we’ve all wanted them separately before we all knew we wanted them. I think if you have your own reasons for wanting to get it, that’s all that matters. I think the unique tattoo at this point is very rare, and if it’s significant for you, you shouldn’t NOT get it just because someone you know has one too.

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  4. Erica

    I already have one tattoo (it’s a hamsa–a hand of god–that a lot of middle eastern people think protects against the evil eye, and it’s to honor my grandma, who pinned a charm of one to my diaper as a kid to “protect” me), and I want another one but can’t figure out what to get! I’m caught up in wanting it to MEAN something like my first one does.

    My boyfriend is the exact opposite, sorta. he has a tattoo of the state seal of rhode island, a bat, and then a sleeve full of LOTS of stuff.

    i have thought about getting a tattoo of a cat reading a book, but i think it might be too elaborate and hurt too much for me.

    [Reply]

  5. Andrew Shaffer

    I think about the books I was into 10 years ago and can’t imagine having a tattoo based on one of them.

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  6. PhoenixTerran

    I wanted a tattoo for a very long time before I finally had the guts to get one. In honor of getting my first “real” job, I had a librarian pin-up done on the inside of my left bicep. You can see an okay photo of it here taken the day after I got it–http://www.librarything.com/pic/116689 It’s been a little over a year since then, and I’ve been happy with it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    OMG that is SO CUTE! ::jealous::

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    PhoenixTerran Reply:

    Thanks! :-D

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  7. Kathleen

    I love the “idea” of a literary tattoo but not sure I could ever settle on which one to get. I have one tattoo already, a small 4 leaf clover on my ankle. I’d love to get another one but it hurts and I don’t want to go down that path where you keep getting another one, and another one and another one…!

    [Reply]

    Amy Reply:

    Aren’t they addictive?!

    [Reply]

  8. Alexia561

    Interesting post! I’ve wanted a tattoo for years, but could never decide what to get. It finally clicked for me that since I love books so much, I should get a tattoo of books! Discussed my idea with the tattoo artist and he came up with a unique design for me. It’s two books; an open book sitting on top of a closed one. I’m happy with it, as I think I would outgrow any quotes I decided on. Maybe some day an idea will click with you and you’ll know it’s the right one.

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  9. raych

    This one girl in my class had ‘Batter my heart’ tattooed just below the back of her neck, which is the first three words in a really awesome John Donne poem, but who reads John Donne? And if you aren’t familiar with the poem, it just looks like the name of a hipster-douchebag indy band. Which is a stupid thing to have tattooed on the back of your neck.

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  10. zibilee

    I don’t think I would get a literary tattoo either. I do have a butterfly on my shoulder, but that is a product of times past. I still love it, and I think it’s a great tattoo, but I don’t thing I want to add anymore art to my body. Maybe that will change one day, but I am not sure. I think I would have a hard time finding a literary quote that would inspire and move me so much that I would want it printed on my body.

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  11. Lisa

    As someone who doesn’t handle pain well, the idea of willing sitting there while someone repeatedly pokes me with a needle has never appealed. Then, too, I’m always thinking about what it will look like when I’m old and if it will even matter still. But, at almost 50, I am starting to ponder having my kids’ initially done on the bottom of my neck. My husband is not thrilled with the idea!

    [Reply]

  12. Jenn @ That Just Happened

    I love this post! It really got me thinking. I have tattoos, but I never considered getting a literary one. I agree with you, it is almost impossible to sum up the impact books have had in my life. My first loved book was Pride and Prejudice, but I don’t really want “It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife”. :)

    I think I might put “the time has come, the walrus said” because I do love Alice and I think it could be about seizing the moment, but it does end with the walrus eating the oysters. So, I don’t know! Thanks for posting this, it’s food for thought.

    [Reply]

    Emily Reply:

    And now I have the rest of that poem running through my head! :)

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  13. Sandy

    No tats on my body…I just never was inspired by anything enough to put it on my skin FOREVER! Still, maybe “reading is sexy” on one butt cheek?

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  14. Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF

    This is fascinating. I don’t have a tattoo and likely will never get one, but now that you bring this up it seems that the only kind I’d ever get would be literary. I’d probably go the kids book route too. Though I think abotu the kids books I love (harry potter, babysitters club) and they dont seem to make the best tattoos. Perhaps The Giving Tree?

    Love this post!

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  15. Trisha

    I have a tatt, but it isn’t literary. It’s a four leaf clover on my lower back. I have considered getting Ping tattooed on me somewhere. The Story About Ping is one I had my family read over and over to me when I was little, and its disturbing nature seems indicative of my eccentricities when I was younger. Plus, the word Ping is just fun. :)

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  16. softdrink

    Like you, I can’t think of anything that I want permanently inked on my body. I’m the lone holdout in my immediate family though…my mom, uncle and brother all have tattoos (a butterfly, dolphins and a cross).

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  17. TexasRed

    I have a tattoo of a celtic cross and have been thinking about a literary tattoo (but not seriously yet). The best one I’ve seen online is “Don’t Panic” from Hitchiker’s Guide. Always good advice!

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  18. Literate Housewife

    I’ve considered getting the back of the original CD sleeve for U2’s The Joshua Tree (basically the tree and the surrounding landscape) as a tattoo. That album symbolizes a lot about my life and my outlook. I have often said that if I hear the opening to Where the Streets Have No Name after I die that this will be my clue that I’m going to heaven. Still, where would I get it? It’s something that is significant to me, so I’d want to see it – but I wouldn’t want to have to worry about clothing choices for the rest of my life either. I’ll probably just keep that picture up at my desk and leave it at that.

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  19. Heather

    I always thought this one was kinda cool:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/31418460@N04/3776451527/

    but I don’t think I’d ever get a Harry Potter tattoo! ;)

    I’ve often contemplated getting a tattoo and have always assumed I would get a literary themed one. (Although I also want a small bluebird on my foot). I’m not sure what I would get, there are so many books that are so important to me. One of my favorite quotes is from Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince, one of my favorite books ever.

    Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu’avec le cœur. L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux.

    or:

    Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

    And then, also, from The Fellowship of the Ring:

    The Road goes ever on and on
    Down from the door where it began,
    Now far ahead the Road has gone,
    And I must follow if I can,
    Pursuing it with eager feet,
    Until it joins some larger way
    Where many paths and errands meet.
    And whither then? I cannot say

    I wouldn’t use the whole poem, but it’s hard to pick which part I would use! Maybe just The Road goes ever on and on…

    It’s so fun to think about! Now if only I could get the nerve up…

    [Reply]

  20. Jeane

    I don’t think I’ll ever get a tattoo- I’m a total wuss when it comes to pain! But if I did it would be a simple image, like that tree, that represented something to me- not text.

    [Reply]

  21. Ti

    Yay!! I’m so glad that you are going to hook up with Amibitious Misfit at some point. I have been checking out her gallery on Facebook for a few weeks now and her work is just beautiful.

    You could get a smallish pin-up girl tatt. I know most people get really large ones but a small one would be cute too.

    If I got a tatt myself, it would have to be book related because there really isn’t anything else that would cause me to wanna go under the needle. I wouldn’t do a quote though, perhaps a vintage cover of one of my all time fave reads (To Kill a Mockingbird or East of Eden).

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  22. Bailey

    I have two tattoos, both of them fairly literary. :) One is on my ribs -it’s a graphic representation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Organic Commandment, which says “Love is the virtue of the heart, sincerity the virtue of the mind, courage the virtue of the spirit, decision the virtue of the will.” The tattoo itself is simply four shapes (a circle, a square, a triangle and three parallel lines) done in plain black ink. It was my first tattoo (and note: ribs? Very very painful place for a tattoo).

    My second is a Latin quote from the book The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel: Habent sua fata libelli. It means “books have their own fates” and I had it done in white ink on my forearm, which looks (if I may say so) very cool. I’m planning to get another, but nothing has struck me just yet.

    I can totally understand all of the concerns you outlined in your post -they’re valid! I got lucky and found short, snappy literary phrases (and shapes) that work for me. If you ever find something you want, I hope you go for it! Tattoos are painful initially -and then they get itchy -but it’s totally worth it.

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I think I saw a pic of someone who had their tatt done in white ink…it looked REALLY cool! And I love that quote, “books have their own fate”.

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    Bailey Reply:

    Thank you! White ink looks a little different on everyone, and I am so pleased with the way mine turned it. I get a lot of really funny questions about it, though -someone asked me if I’d been branded! Ow!

    I am especially fond of the quote because I publish a small literary journal, and that’s a huge part of my love of books. It’s a great project.

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    Bailey Reply:

    Turned out** (I hate my own typos!)

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  23. Jenny

    Never ever in a million years ever would I get a tattoo – but I love the Contrariwise blog place, and if I were going to get a tattoo (again I say, could never happen), it would be a literary one, probably some quotation that would remind me to keep perspective. Maybe some part of the stanza from the Rubaiyat, “The moving finger writes, and having writ / Moves on, nor all your piety and wit / Shall lure it back to cancel half a line, / Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.” Or I’ve also thought of this line from Tom Stoppard’s The Invention of Love, “What emotional storms, and oh what a tiny teacup” – I maybe would get “oh what a tiny teacup”. I would actually like that a lot. Except for the tattoo part, which I would never get.

    *afraid of needles*

    [Reply]

    trish Reply:

    I love the “oh what a tiny teacup”!!!! Get it before I do! ;-)

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  24. Andi

    Yep, you pretty much summed up my problem with gettinga literary tat. I either feel like a copycat or it would have to be so verbose, I wouldn’t have any unscathed skin left. Blarrg~!

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    Emily Reply:

    Same here! I had a housemate once who had a small tree tattoo on the inside of her wrist, and I totally loved it. If I got a tattoo that’s exactly what I would want, but now I feel like I can’t! I love the idea of a literary tattoo, too, but I don’t think I could ever settle on what to do.

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  25. Monica

    I just got my first tattoo and one of the things I had to get over was the fact that other people would view it differently than I do. A tattoo is going to stay on YOUR body for the rest of YOUR life. It needs to mean something TO YOU and be important TO YOU. Forget everyone else. Ask yourself: “Do I want one? What of? What does it mean to me? Where do I want it?” without thinking about what other people think.

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  26. Moni

    My husband is a tattoo artist and I’m planning a literary tattoo in the near future. I’m a children’s librarian and have a passion for picture books. I’m trying to figure out what I want. I recently found the old Richard Scary’s Best Storybook Ever at my Mom’s house. I pretty much learned how to read with that book and looking at it again brought back a lot of really wonderful memories of my childhood. In that book there is a weird picture of a bunny rabbit holding a saw behind his back that I might have tattooed on me. I love weird things so it’s right up my alley.

    [Reply]

  27. nikki

    I have a lady bug on my ankle, which does have a back story. I am getting a literary tattoo. I’m getting the phrase “So it goes” tattooed on my back.

    [Reply]

    Steph Reply:

    I’m getting this tattooed in white ink on my wrist. I love Vonnegut, and I love that phrase. Whenever I hear someone dies, the first thing I think of is always “so it goes.”

    [Reply]

  28. Natalie

    I had my first tattoo at the age of 44. It hurt like h*(#). But I am seriously considering getting a book tattoo. Hmmmm…..

    [Reply]

    Melody Reply:

    So I’m like months off from you commenting but I had to post a response. How bad it hurts really, really, really depends on your artist. My first handful of tattoo KILLED. My new artist, Jason, is so light handed that I can hold a normal conversation with him no matter what he’s doing. He even tickled me a little on accident when he was shading my shoulder because of how sensitive the placement is and how light his touch was.

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  29. Jen - Devourer of Books

    My mom wanted my sister and I to get tattoos with her for one of her big birthdays (50th, maybe?). She wanted her sorority flower, my sister was thinking music note, but honestly, I couldn’t think of a single thing I wanted on my body for the next 5 years, let alone the next 50. MAYBE if I was going to go the literary route (it would probably be TIMSHEL, from East of Eden), but even so, I don’t think I’ll ever be decisive enough to pick the one thing I want to have permanently on my body.

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  30. Stephanie

    I’ve actually thought about getting a literary tattoo! I don’t think I ever will, but if I did, it would be the fox from The Little Prince (this little guy! http://home.pacific.net.hk/~rebylee/text/prince/pics/21a.jpg). I love the fox, that’s my favorite chapter in one of my favorite books, and the fox has some personal meaning to me. But I don’t like the idea of permanency, and I worry that I’d regret it one day. So it’s just a tattoo in my mind. ;)

    [Reply]

  31. Michelle

    I have three tattoos and have asked for two more for my anniversary. I love them all and really want the next two. One of mine could be considered a literary tattoo, in the sense that it is a visual of fang bites on my wrist – from Dracula. It represents my love affair with vampires that started back when I was eight or nine. I get a lot of looks for it, but I have absolutely no regrets.

    I say that if you truly want one, I say go for it. Chances are, no matter what you get, someone will also have it, but that does not matter. What matters is that the tattoo has meaning for you.

    [Reply]

  32. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    I have a tattoo (that I got when I was 18 and the whole Chinese-character-tattoo thing was really cool) and have always thought about getting something literary.

    If I were going to get a quote, I’d get either “Life, too, is like that. You live it forward but understand it backward.” (from CUTTING FOR STONE)

    or “Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.” (from GILEAD)

    But most likely, I’d choose an image from a book. Maybe an old-fashioned lamp-post from Narnia, to remind me of the ways in which reading takes us into other worlds. Or maybe an armadillo, reminiscent of A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY….because, you know, who doesn’t want an armadillo tattoo?

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  33. Eleanor's Trousers

    I have a few tattoos (all easily covered by work clothes). The closest one to “literary” would be the Latin phrase on my back for “Art is Long. Life is short.” As a writer, it reminds me to use the time I have on earth to get the work done.

    [Reply]

  34. lisa (the little reader)

    i have 7 tattoos and none of them are literary. i love books and they are such a huge part of my life, but i haven’t found anything in books that has just screamed out to be inked onto me forever and ever, amen. i may get one someday, but i honestly have no idea what it would be.

    i do have a ‘tree of life’ tattoo on the inside of my ankle/calf, which shows up in tons of mythology and literature, but i didn’t get it with any particular book or literary piece in mind. that would be the closest thing to a literary tattoo that i have…

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  35. Amused

    Oh man I never thought of getting a literary tattoo but I do like the idea. I always thought that if I got one, I’d want one on the top of my foot. I don’t know why I just think it looks cool but then everyone told me that’s the most painful place to get one so it freaked me out. So I guess I’ll never get one either.

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  36. SparkleBella

    I made the decision to get a tattoo 5 years ago – but still haven’t done it. I walk in a shop (usually in LasV) then chicken out – LOL! Definitely will be something small, just for me. (Do they have sparkly tattoo ink??!! Can I get a twinkly shooting star?!) No way could I go literary, as there’s always my *NEXT* favorite book to think about. Would hate to have all those do-overs splattered across my backside or arms. And favorite childhood books that I still like to read? OMG – I don’t think having one of The Goops or the Cat in the Hat would be overly sexy as tramp stamps. No. Definitely not. (Hmmmm – maybe something from On Beyond Zebra, though, like the Yuzz or Spazz symbol!) Great fun to think about!

    [Reply]

  37. Alison

    I’m actually a big fan of Contrariwise. I think that a literary tattoo is the only kind I’d be willing to have permanently etched on my body.

    I’d love to do a few lines from e e cummings’ ‘i carry your heart.’ Someday. Someday.

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  38. Jena

    I love Contrariwise. And I totally intend to get a literary tattoo–if I ever find something I actually want tattooed into my skin. (And I already have one tattoo. They’re addictive. After the first one, I was obsessed with getting another one for months, but I refrained.)

    [Reply]

    Melody Reply:

    They are completely addictive… I went from none to 13 in 3 years. I ended up with so many because I knew exactly what I wanted for all of them and I was just too scared to get them. Once I had my first I blew through the rest because I knew the pain wasn’t bad at all.

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  39. Jen-Girls Gone Reading

    I considered getting a tattoo for years, but then I couldn’t think of a place to put it where eventually it wouldn’t look awful. So I have decided to age naturally all around-with no outside help or special marks.

    I might have to reconsider now that I know you can get literary tattoos. I didn’t even think about that!

    [Reply]

  40. Tiffani

    I love tattoos! but don’t have any. I love the idea of literary tattoo. You’ve given me some ideas.

    [Reply]

  41. Beth F

    Tattoos involve needles — I hate needles. No tattoo for me.

    [Reply]

  42. Frankie

    This post comes at an odd time. As I’ve grown older, I’ve considered a tat but haven’t been inspired. A person I work with has several and when I asked why her response was,”I don’t want to die plain”. Best response ever. so now I’m thnking about what I want.

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  43. Pam

    I have no desire to get a tattoo, and I’ve never heard of “literary tattoos” before this post. I suppose if I ever were to get a tattoo it would be a “literary one”. But, like you, I have absolutely no idea what it would be. A bookworm, maybe?

    [Reply]

  44. Elena

    I just got my first tattoo. It’s an illustration of a spellbook from a Harry Potter book. I love books and am studying to be a librarian, so getting a book seemed perfect. Harry Potter was also an important part of my life, I grew up on those books, so the dual meaning appealed to me. If, down the line, I fall completely out of favor with Harry Potter it’s still a neat tattoo of an old book.

    I am in love with literary tattoos and already want another one.

    [Reply]

  45. erica

    I read an article once that said a lot of Twilight fans were having:
    “and the lion fell in love with the lamb…” tattooed in various places.

    Forgive me Twilight fans, but… GAG!

    [Reply]

    Emily Reply:

    Oh, wow, that makes me want to gag, too.

    [Reply]

    Rebecca T. :) Reply:

    I third the gagging. In fact, I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

    [Reply]

  46. Stephanie

    I love the idea of a literary tattoo. My favorites after looking through the blog are the one by John Donne and the one by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

    [Reply]

  47. Serena

    I have two tattoos and each were obtained at a turning point in my life. The first is literary in a sense, but the second is more about transformation. Literary tattoos fascinate me, but I haven’t had one speak specifically to me.

    [Reply]

  48. Holley

    I have two non-literary tattoos (a dragon and a phoenix) and two literary tattoos. I have a quote from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus (come and take choice of all my library and so beguile thy sorrow) and Picasso’s Don Quixote. All but the dragon are on my forearms.
    :-)
    Holley

    [Reply]

  49. Carina

    I have two non-literary tattoos (one of the Skate Canada logo, and another that is softball-related) on opposite sides of my right ankle. I would absolutely love to get a literary tattoo of some kind, but I’m afraid that I wouldn’t be able to pick just one!

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  50. Borrower

    I don’t think I would ever be able to get a tattoo of any sort – I can’t imagine loving an image or phrase so completely that I would consider making it a permanent part of my existence! I do love that you considered The Unnamed as a source for a possible literary tattoo. I just finished the book and posted a review of it on my blog at http://aborrowerbe.wordpress.com/2010/06/13/the-unnamed-joshua-ferris/. I wish I could have joined the discussion when you posted your review back in January, but it looks like I missed the boat on that one.

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  51. Rebecca T. :)

    I can’t believe you don’t want that really long paragraph tattooed on your body! I mean, how can you really, TRULY love the written word without having it etched across your entire back? :P

    I think I wouldn’t be able to choose which literary gem to tattoo on myself. I would probably change my mind about a month later when I read something that was even more life-changing for me, and what then?

    Better to just get a pin-up girl, I agree.

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  52. Carissa

    I’m working on an entire sleeve of literary allusions. Much of the forearm is finished – a sparrowhawk (my answer Emil Sinclair’s sparrowhawk in Hesse’s ‘Demian’) flying through a rowan bush (inspired by a poem by Marina Tsvetaeva). One of the branches on the bush is crystallized (a nod to Stendhal’s essay ‘On Love’). There’s tons more work to do, but thus far I adore every bit of it…it does help that my artist is doing an insanely good job of rendering these ideas that have impacted me so thoroughly into the tattoo medium. I’m certainly an advocate for pictures rather than words when it comes to literary tattoos – explaining them is much more fun that way, and it’s not spelled out for people if I’ve decided that I’d rather keep mum.

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  53. Bobbie

    I actually have two tattoos. One of a flower and one with hearts and roses. The hearts and roses has my oldest daughters name in it. I would love to have another one and like you I have a thing for pinups. I actually work for a lot of pinup artists and they have tons of tattoo flashes. The only problem is I want them all, lol. Probably by the time I decide I wont want it anymore:)

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  54. Laurie

    I have two tattoos referencing the two totems I was given as part of my Cherokee heritage (dolphin on the inside of my right ankle, dragonfly on my lower back, both custom art) and my husband is currently playing around w/ ideas for my 4th. I am getting my third one (I heard this story as a child, but I guess it is also a literary tattoo, as I read it in a book, it is quoted in the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” along the inside of my left foot – “part of the ocean” – or I a may do “We are all part of the ocean”
    http://blogs.nlb.gov.sg/readandreap/young-people/youre-not-a-wave-youre-part-of-the-ocean/
    For each tattoo I’ve gotten, I’ve spent years contemplating exactly what, where, how big, what color, etc etc for each one. My first one was 11 years ago before it was all the rage. The second was six years ago. It is a highly personal decision.

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  55. Vic

    I’ve had a weird obsession with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappacini’s Daughter” since I was in high school. I’m also obsessed with skulls, Dia De Los Muertos, and Sylvia Ji’s portraits of women painted up like calaveras. So i’m trying to combine the two in a tattoo. “Most dear to one another, and dreadful to all besides.”

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  56. julia

    i’ve got a tiny “capricorn” sign tattooed on the right side of my foot,and i am planning on getting another 2 tatts,which can be a problem since i’m only 14 and my mom doesn’t really like this kind of art.well,as i told my mom,i will get them anyway sooner or later.there is no doubt about what i want:
    somewhere on my back:’i feel infinite”,a quote from stephen chobsky’s “the perks of being a wallflower”,which was the first book i was both happy about the way it ended and wished didn’t have an end.
    “so it goes”,on my finger and
    the giving tree, for my mother,on my neck.

    however,i’ve come to the decision to do these later,after my body stops from growing,because i really want them to look great.

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  57. Ms. Bunni

    I’m probably the last of a dying breed…TATTOO FREE! So glad I’m happy with my body, NO tatts now, or ever…Thanks, God, MOM & DAD, and nature for my beauty…marvelous job!

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  58. Unapologetically Mundane ()

    I found you searching for a book called “Some Day I’ll Be a Librarian” and just had to let you know that this is The Most Commented Post on my blog. People sure love their literary tattoos.

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  59. Jessica

    Perhaps it’s a little late to comment, but I just found this post after googling literary tattoos. My first tattoo is going to be my favorite line from one of my favorite poems. I’ve been sitting on the idea of getting a tattoo for a while now and this poem has been my favorite for years so when it clicked, it just clicked. Across my right shoulder, I’m getting “the sweet far thing” (from W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Rose of Battle’) in Minstrel font, black ink. “You, too, have [...] heard ring the bell that calls us on; the sweet far thing.” That line has so much meaning to me, I couldn’t imagine getting anything else tattooed on me.

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  60. eva

    woah! that’s my alice tattoo!!
    who would have thought it would have made the internet rounds like it has?

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  61. Melody

    I’ve got 13 tattoos (might sound a bit excessive but I swear they all mean a LOT to me and they’re all original, custom pieces to relate to personal experience). One of my tattoos is a literary tattoo. It’s a line taken from Emily Dickinson. “Hope is the thing with feathers” is written on a banner being held up by two sparrows to remind me there is hope even in our darkest times. I got this piece done as a memorial after two of my cousins were murdered.

    My next tattoo will also be a literary tattoo. It’s going to oppose my Dickinson piece and keep with that theme. It’s a nod to Charles Bukowski’s poem “Bluebird”. It will be a bluebird taking flight with the line “There is a bluebird in my heart”. It is also a memorial piece for a friend of mine who was recently killed. The poem reminds me so much of him… the hard exterior trying to hide the beautiful things inside.

    I love all of my tattoos but honestly, my literary tattoos are my favorites because they pack so much more meaning into one piece than a simple graphic can. I love art, I love poetry, but most of all… I love my ink.

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  62. Samantha

    The one thing about literary tattoos for me is, like you said, they’re everywhere. Especially childhood books. The thing is, I’ve been toying with the idea of a reference to a childhood book for years. It’s not because they’re popular now, it’s because childhood literature has always had a place in my heart. I’ve always been young at heart and somewhat of a dreamer. I think that retaining that childhood innocence and wonder of the world around us is something we should never lose. That’s why I love books like Peter Pan, or the original Winnie the Pooh books. But now I’m worried that getting a literary tattoo will seem cliche, when in reality fairytales and childhood literatrure really are important to me.

    I know I want a tattoo on my shoulder, but I don’t know what it is I want yet. I’ve considered A pirate ship beginning to fly out of the water, as a reference to peter pan, or a quote by C.S. Lewis, reading: “One day you’ll be old enough to read fairy-tales again.” I’ve also thought about a small illustration form the original Pohh books. But I’m not sure yet. I know that I’ll probably let the ideas sit for a few more years before I make any decisions.

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