JUSTIN TAYLOR, EVA TALMADGE, AND ONE RATHER IRONIC TATTOO. PHOTOS BY JIM HENRY.
An eclectic mix of bookish types and body art enthusiasts—and many who fell squarely into both categories—assembled under the disco ball at DUMBO's Powerhouse Arena last night to fête the release of Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor's The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. The revelers' demographics neatly echoed those of the subjects featured in the book—"quite a fair number of whom," says Talmadge, "are booksellers, librarians, people who work in book publishing, but also just a lot of people who read."
Choosing to emblazon some portion of flesh with your literary passion (a favorite quote, author, book, edition, or punctuation mark) not only announces to the world your commitment to the art of being a bookworm, but also, as the book's agent, Brandi Bowles, mused, "elevates the tattoo itself." Forget the cringe-worthy butterfly tramp stamps immediately called to mind by the subject of tattooing—these are indelible homages to Adorno, Pynchon, and Kafka.
Longtime friends Talmadge and Taylor, who first met in a creative writing class at the University of Florida, presented some of the standout body art from the pages of The Word Made Flesh, waxed nostalgic about their favorite parts of putting it together ("just seeing all these tattoos has been such a treat"), and shared some trends in literary ink. They came upon a wide range of classic and, um, contemporary literature: "Kurt Vonnegut is probably the most tattooed author," they explained, but "we could have filled the book with just Harry Potter or Twilight tattoos alone."
Although chilly October temperatures meant that not a great deal of ink was readily visible, a show of hands indicated that about half of the gathered literati possessed some sort of body art. Candace, a publishing assistant, revealed that she is tattooed with the quote "unthinkably good things can happen" from Under the Tuscan Sun—the movie version, however, not the book. A longtime Joyce devotee, Ian King, decided to have the last line of Finnegan's Wake inscribed around his forearm after spending four furious days reading the classic while visiting Amsterdam (what everyone does while vacationing there, certainly).
Notes were compared on where to be competently adorned with text—Fineline Tattoo on the Lower East Side is a popular spot—and for those not yet wearing their literary tastes on their sleeve, ideas were batted around. Settling on a tattoo seems to require a fairly rigorous reading regimen; said one partygoer, "I'm thinking of something from Jane Austen, but I'll have to go back and revisit her work."
William Clifford, whose tattooed allegiance to Martin Amis and Ferdinand the Bull (among others!) is featured in the compilation, attended the party with a freshly-inked eighth lit tat, as well as a new friend. According to his female companion, the two became acquainted recently when she saw Clifford's body art and couldn't help but tell him, "Yo, that is hot!"
But perhaps the most badass literary ink—one wonders how many times that phrase has ever been used—was on the arms of Talmadge and Bowles themselves. As part of the book proposal, the authors and their agent agreed to get their own literary tattoos. While Taylor failed to follow through on this promise ("I couldn't find one that was able to close the deal"), Talmadge, whose long-ago first tattoo was a Fred Perry wreath, picked a window and a doorway from a favorite poem by the avant-garde poet Daniil Kharms. Bowles selected John Cage's words "begin anywhere" to be scripted on the inside of her upper arm. When asked about her choice, she admitted, "Well, it was partly a space issue."
TO SEE MORE LITERARY TATTOOS, OR TO SUBMIT YOUR OWN, VISIT TALMADGE AND TAYLOR'S WEBSITE. THE WORD MADE FLESH: LITERARY TATTOOS FROM BOOKWORMS WORLDWIDE IS AVAILABLE NOW FROM HARPER PERENNIAL.