Check Out Our Favorite Tattoos Inspired by Books

We asked you to share your #ElectricLitInk, and you delivered

How much do you love your favorite book? Do you love it enough to get an image or passage from it permanently inked on your skin? Well, judging from the response to our #ElectricLitInk hashtag: yeah, lots of you do. (Including at least three Electric Lit staffers! Maybe more, but they’re not admitting it.) If you don’t yet have a literary-inspired tattoo and you’re looking for inspiration—or if you’re just thinking about what you want next—here are some of the highlights from the hashtag, paired with artist information and a little more explanation from contributors who wanted to share why they got their book-related ink.

“Throughout undergrad, Tom Robbins was a reminder of my love of language and of wordplay in literature, while I was struggling through dry textbooks and assigned reading. This tattoo has sparked a lot of interesting events, like the time I took my pants off in a coffee shop to compare Tom Robbins tattoos with the barista (I asked first).”

Artist: Lauren Toohey at Wyld Chyld Tattoo in Pittsburgh

Artist: Deirdre Doyle at Redemption Tattoo in Cambridge, Massachusetts

“I like carrying some of my favorite works of art with me as we use art as a guide for how to live a more meaningful, rich life. My two tattoos in homage to Tolstoy remind me of two of my favorite passages in literature — the mowing scene in Anna Karenina is one of the greatest moments of mindful presence, and the comet scene in War & Peace reminds me of how divinity and wonder manifest in each of us (entelechy like whoa). My forearm tattoos are a link to both Kundera and my marriage: The olive branches on my left arm link to my name, and the laurel branches on my right are a nod to my husband’s name (Lawson, which means ‘son of the laurel bearer’). I combined this with the original Czech for the first chapter of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. It’s a balance of opposites for me, and I like the idea of combining the knowledge represented by laurels with a sense of lightness and the peace represented by olive branches with the weight of ‘tize.’ That’s pretty much what marriage is all about, right?”

Artists: Minka Sicklinger in Brooklyn (Kundera) and Biel Carpenter in Berlin (Tolstoy)

“I love books and I love tattoos. I’m working on growing a third arm so I can get pictures of the rest of them, but here are my hands and a semi-nsfw Coleridge chest piece to prove that I do, in fact, have literary tattoos. the books on my hands were kind of a no-brainer. the Coleridge quote comes from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner: “O let me be awake, my God! / Or let me sleep alway.” it reminds me to be present for people and for experiences in life since the only real alternative is to sleep the Big Sleep.”

Artists: Jason Ochoa at Greenpoint Tattoo Company and Jim Gentry at Hand of Glory Tattoo, both in New York City

“I grew up on SFF, and the giant, gilt-edged More Than Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide was hugely influential on my sense of humor — and my certainty that the universe has its own sense of humor. Ages ago, I saw a few tattoo versions of the whale/petunias scene, but it wasn’t until I saw Betty Rose’s kinetic kitties that I knew what I wanted it to look like: all one piece, petunias inside the outline of the whale. To me, the image means a lot of things, but I look at it a little like the glass half full/glass half empty question: Would you rather respond to the universe like the whale, or like the petunias?”

Artist: Betty Rose in Austin, Texas

“This is Narsil, Aragorn’s broken blade from The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s a cool-looking sword tattoo, and can be just that, but for me it’s about coming into grace and power. It’s that old, simple metaphor of a thing becoming stronger after it breaks, that Leonard Cohen quote about a crack in everything, that imperfect person rising to the occasion. My tattoos punctuate my life, not like commas or periods, but like question marks: they indicate the points where I felt lost, unsure, ‘broken.’ When some tragedy happens, the tattooing ritual is the first step of putting myself back together. That sword is tattooed along a nerve, and the gnarly, needling pain of the experience woke me up, reminded me not to neglect my calling, my purpose, my life.”

Artist: Billy Bracey at Downtown Tattoos in New Orleans

Artist: Mike Richardson at Electric Dagger Tattoo in Jackson, Mississippi

“I got this tattoo because I love thinking about geology and deep time, and I love narrative nonfiction. (Clearly I’m also a big John McPhee fan.) The slightly hokier reason is that I was feeling stuck in my life and in New York, where I’d been living for several years, and I hoped the design itself would serve as a reminder that I could always change my life. And I guess it worked. It’s funny, too, that it’s from Assembling California, since I live in California now.”

Artist: Joy Rumore in Los Angeles

“While reading about the bugler girl symbol, used in the suffrage movement to advertise suffragette meetings, she immediately struck me as the perfect symbol to go with Atwood’s famous Handmaid’s Tale quote, letting her continue to inspire strength with words.”

The quote that inspired this tattoo: “I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”

Artist: Lauren Vandevier at Lakewood Electric in Cleveland

“A lot of my tattoos have been based on my love for books, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. My right arm is a collection of paintings from the Abarat series by Clive Barker, I have a Shakespeare-esque skull on a pile of books, I have the (very faded) bird from the cover of Chuck Palahniuk’s Lullaby, Rogue & Wonder Woman to show my love for Marvel and DC comics, and an Alice in Wonderland and Velveteen Rabbit piece as well.”

Artist: Shaun Evans at New Horizon Studio in New York

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