One of the many reasons we read is to find bits of ourselves in the thoughts and ideas and, specifically, the words of others. We come across a carefully-crafted, particularly expressive sentence or line from a poem, and something intangible binds us to the ink (ah, ink) on the page. These connections can lead to self-discovery, self-improvement, and a re-appreciation for the world we live in. We carry our favorite quotes or lines or images with us throughout our entire lives.
Some of us even, apparently, feel compelled to literally stamp specific quotes, lines, or images onto our distinguishable selves.
Literarily-inspired tattoos have become common enough to merit their own coffee-table-style book, The Word Made Flesh, edited by Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor (infrequent contributer at the great HTMLGIANT, and author of Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever, which I enjoyably saw him read from at the Harvard Book Store last semester). The book collects images and intimate, revealing testimonies of inked bookworms from, as the title says, across the world. The final product amounts to what could accurately be described as a very hip, very edgy, very cool scaled-back version of Bartlett’s.
Besides the photographs of tat’d up readers, the book includes Donald Barthelme’s short-story “The Baby,” which inspired his daughter, Katharine Barthelme, to inscribe two of her father’s words (“Born dancin'”) on her arm as a tribute. There is also a rather lengthy section in the book about Shelley Jackson’s “Skin” project. The “Skin” project involves the publishing, so to speak, of one of Jackson’s short stories, Talmadge and Taylor write in the introduction, “one word at a time, on the bodies of several thousand participants.”
The Word Made Flesh is a fun look at an extreme type of literary fandom. It’s a book about devotion, really. The photos it contains literalize the familiar feeling, a work’s staying power, that a good book or poem or play can produce in a satisfied reader. While I’ll probably only spend my time, this life, acquainting myself with art that, if its successful, gets and lodges itself under my skin, to my gut and my heart, I can certainly appreciate those readers who choose to self-express, physically, palpably, by borrowing words (made flesh) from their favorite writers.