Thinking about getting a literary tattoo

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“I’m always shocked at how few people make themselves into a lifelong monument to their favourite prose or verse.”
Carey Harrison, Brooklyn NY (The World Made Flesh)

I got my first tattoo when I was fifteen years old. I was in Athens with my cousin and we stopped into Jimmy’s, the oldest tattoo studio in Greece. I only knew one person who had a tattoo. She was older than me and totally badass, so naturally I wanted to be just like her. I chose a random design from a binder (definitely not something I’d recommend) and waited in line to get it done. Before I knew it, I was sitting down in front of a man who didn’t speak English and who didn’t seem to have a problem with the fact that I was a teenager. I wasn’t scared. I was deliriously happy. “Losing My Religion” was playing on the radio and to this day that song gives me goosebumps. I can still hear the sound of the tattoo needle and smell the cigarette smoke from inside the packed studio. I can see the Parthenon perched on the Acropolis, lit up in the night sky and surrounded by cranes and scaffolding. I may not love the design I chose (a small blue cloud) but when I see the tattoo it reminds me of that moment in my life. I’m so happy that I have it.

After getting my first tattoo, I was hooked. I don’t know many people who only get one. In fact, most people become addicted. I have nine tattoos in total, but it’s been a few years since I got my last one so I’ve got the urge to get another. I don’t know what I’ll get but I know it will be some sort of a literary tattoo.


I looked to The Word Made Flesh, both the website and the book, to provide a little inspiration. There are the more obvious literary tattoos, like colour illustrations from beloved children’s books. But others are a little less obvious, like Nabokov’s simple book dedication to his wife (“To Vera”) or a collage of all the Twilight book covers (really?). There is definitely a lot of love out there for Shel Silverstein and Kurt Vonnegut. The world is full of people with “So it goes” tattooed somewhere on their bodies. When you think about it, it’s not at all surprising that people want to get words or images from their favourite books tattooed. When a book is important to you, you feel connected to it. A tattoo is a great way to show that connection to the world and to remind yourself of it each and every day.

I already have one literary tattoo. Le mot juste on my inner arm is one of my favourites. But I’m having trouble deciding what to get next. These are some of the tattoos I’m considering:

  • beautiful little fool (from The Great Gatsby)
  • isn’t it pretty to think so? (last line of The Sun Also Rises)
  • it was a dark and stormy night… (Edward Bulwer-Lytton, or Snoopie if you prefer)
  • write one true sentence (Hemingway in A Moveable Feast)

If you’re also thinking of getting a tattoo, literary or otherwise, take my advice: triple-check your grammar and spelling before the needle comes anywhere near you. No one wants to live with a permanent typo.

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