LitInk: LitReactor's Literary Tattoo Showdown


About a week ago, we were gobsmacked when we saw the above tattoo, which was posted to the forum by jacks_username (real name: Dakota Taylor). I guess that makes us a big deal now, right? I asked Dakota why he permanently scarred this site's logo onto his forearm: 

The idea to get a LitReactor tattoo had been on my mind for a few months. It's really a homage to the online community. There are two things I love, and that is tattoos and books. When I added it up, it was an easy choice.

I've always been fascinated with tattoos that are inspired by literature. They tend to come from deep places--from words and works that have connected with people on such a profound level, they want to wear it in their skin.

I have four pieces. Two of them are inspired by literature:

The skull is from a Kurt Vonnegut sketch I found in Armageddon in Retrospect (though I redrew it in my style and with my handwriting). On my forearm is Dr. Manhattan's hydrogen atom, which is a celebration of three things: Science, one of my favorite books ever, and also getting a job where a forearm tattoo isn't taboo. 

I'm not the only staffer with literary ink. Here's my fellow columnist and news blogger Hanna Brooks Olsen

This is what Hanna said about her piece, which is on her ribcage:

In my family, tattoos are standard operating procedure--but they all have to mean something. Mine says "sometimes i take a great notion," which is both the inspiration to the title of my favorite book (Sometimes A Great Notion, by the incredible Ken Kesey, which, as a teen growing up in Eugene, Oregon, was required reading), and a line from what is probably one of the greatest songs in the American songbook, Goodnight Irene.

All this got me thinking: There are probably some people floating around here with some sweet ink.

And we just showed you ours. 

Now show us yours. 

The contest: 

Got some literary ink? Get bold. Post it. In one week, we're going to pick two winners--one male, one female. Tattoos will be judged on creativity, artistry, and general awesomeness. Your judges: Me, Dakota, and Hanna. 

How to enter:

Create a LitReactor account if you don't have one. Then, in the comments section, post a link to your tattoo, or upload a photo (you can't directly upload a photo to the site; it needs to be hosted elsewhere, like Flickr).

* If you're sharing from Facebook, and your account is set to private, we won't be able to see the photos. 

Show your face or don't, that's up to you. Explain the piece or don't, also up to you.

You can't win if you're a LitReactor staffer or instructor (though y'all are welcome to participate).

Each winner shall receive:

  • One LitReactor mug. Based on rigorous scientific testing, we've found they make coffee taste better.
  • A free eBook. My publishing house has offered to let each winner pick one free book from our lineup, in the format of your choice. Hop over to to see what we have.
  • Six months membership to LitReactor. You'll get access to our fabled writing workshop, which includes a peer review system, exclusive craft essays, and sexy parties. If you're already a paying member, this will be added to your current subscription (or you may bequeath it upon someone).  

Get posting. And if you've been sitting on a tattoo idea for a while, you could always get it done this weekend. Think of all the glory you shall receive, on the internet. 

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Rachel Hanalei's picture
Rachel Hanalei April 6, 2012 - 11:47am



This is one of my literary tattoos. It was drawn by Kurt Vonnegut in Breakfast of Champion as a symboliztion of time.  




lilyangelle's picture
lilyangelle April 6, 2012 - 11:50am

My tattoo reads "Not all who wander are lost," an excerpt from a poem by J.R.R. Tolkien in The Fellowship Of The Ring, CH. 10. I'm a LotR junkie, and it shows - literally! 


All that is gold does not glitter, 

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost. 

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king. 


Terri Jones-Martin's picture
Terri Jones-Martin from Arkansas is reading The Plague Dogs April 6, 2012 - 11:53am

On my forearm, the Quenya word for "love," transcribed using Tengwa:


On my neck, from Janet Fitch's novel Paint It Black:

Which then continues on to behind my ear to include music (since Unvollendete is also the informal name for Franz Schubert's final symphony):

Rick Black's picture
Rick Black April 6, 2012 - 11:54am

This is my Gonzo tat.  Not nearly as cool as the earlier one, but it hurt enough for me.

slav3unit's picture
slav3unit April 6, 2012 - 12:19pm

My wife's tattoo.  The quote is by William Makepeace Thackeray.

<a href="" title="Untitled by Slave Unit, on Flickr"><img src="" width="240" height="140" alt="Untitled"></a>

"Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children."

Mine are, I don't know if it was ever in a piece of literature, but I got it from the movie Revolutionary Road.

<a href="" title="THE HOPELESS EMPTINESS by Slave Unit, on Flickr"><img src="" width="135" height="240" alt="THE HOPELESS EMPTINESS"></a>

And this is my play on the saying What doesn't kill....

<a href="" title="What Doesn't Kill Me Eventually Will by Slave Unit, on Flickr"><img src="" width="180" height="240" alt="What Doesn't Kill Me Eventually Will"></a>

Thanks for viewing!

Sarah Timm's picture
Sarah Timm April 6, 2012 - 12:15pm

My Harry Potter tattoo. The Patronus spell represents pure happiness, and can roughly translate to 'I await a protector'. A reminder to me to fight off my depression, and of course a tribute to the series I grew up with.

casualsimplicity's picture
casualsimplicity from Wisconsin is reading Great House by Nicole Krauss April 6, 2012 - 12:23pm

What a fun contest! I love literary tattoos! Hooray for book nerds. :)

I have two myself. The first one is from Maya Angelou's "I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings," which I have on my right shoulder blade.


My other tattoo is on my left wrist, from the Sylvia Plath quote, "I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart; I am. I am. I am." 

A guy at a coffee shop saw the one on my wrist and said, "Just a reminder?"

I smiled and said, "Yes, that's exactly what it is."


Lizz Long's picture
Lizz Long from Woburn, MA is reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest April 6, 2012 - 12:24pm

I was having a really rough day and was aggravated with one of my fellow volunteers and wanted to just quit helping other people. Then I realized I could never do that, it's just not in my nature.

I also LOVED The Giving Tree as a kid (and still today), so I decided to go get a Giving Tree tattoo (oh soo original, I know), but with my own little spin on it.


Never stop giving.


Caitlyn Cavanaugh's picture
Caitlyn Cavanaugh from Denver, CO is reading My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me April 6, 2012 - 12:25pm

This is my fourth tattoo, taken from The Robot and The Bluebird by David Lucas. When I arrived for my appointment, my tattoo artist actually started tearing up when I told him the plot-synopsis. "Seriously? I thought this was a kid's book. That's, like, the saddest thing I've ever heard." Take that, Charlotte's Web.

Lizz Long's picture
Lizz Long from Woburn, MA is reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest April 6, 2012 - 12:29pm

@ Sarah Timm: Love your HP tattoo!

@ everyone with a Palahniuk (especially Fight Club) tattoo: Jealous! I've been wanting to get a Fight Club one for ages, but I can't decide on what specifically to get, or where.

Jess Nichols's picture
Jess Nichols from Phoenix, AZ is reading Diary by Chuck Palahniuk April 6, 2012 - 1:15pm

I got this tattoo once I turned 18, a tribute to my favorite book, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

Many a time someone will spot it and say to me, "Oh, I love Pirates of the Caribbean!" And then I'll try to explain to them that this is from the Verne novel. After about the 28th time, I decided to give up and just say, "Me too."

Instead of getting the Nautilus done, which is the vessel from the novel, I got a wooden ship because of the opening chapter about ships sinking from what the public calls "an enormous thing". Which I guess makes sense as to why people confuse it for the Disney movie.

Keith York's picture
Keith York from Las Vegas, Nevada is reading The Prisoner of Heaven April 6, 2012 - 12:55pm

My Remington Portable Model 5 -- the love of my life.

Jeana's picture
Jeana April 6, 2012 - 12:56pm

A while back my tattoo artist brother and I sat down and began to plan out a whole leg piece dedicated to literature. So far he's only done three out of the many many more to come.

ZombieJon's picture
ZombieJon from Chicago is reading "Timequake" - Kurt Vonnegut April 6, 2012 - 1:00pm


tattoo - book cover for "Rant" by Chuck Palahniuk

Matt Holland's picture
Matt Holland April 6, 2012 - 1:03pm
bookworm3688's picture
bookworm3688 from South of Hell-for-Certain is reading The Girl who Played with Fire April 6, 2012 - 1:07pm

I wanted to get a tattoo that defined who I am, so what could be more fitting than the OED definition of "bibliophile?" Here's a link to the picture:

dunn118's picture
dunn118 April 6, 2012 - 1:09pm

heres my tattoo from fight club, from the movie by inspired by the book... done by bob tyrrell, about 23 hours total. i only know how to link this to my facebook.

Sister Morticia's picture
Sister Morticia April 6, 2012 - 1:11pm

My tattoo is from The Little Prince. As the Fox tells the Little Prince, "To you I am just a fox, like a hundred thousand others, but if you tame me we shall need one another and I shall be unique to you in all the world"

It is a quote that always makes me happy :o)




The Wizard of Cause's picture
The Wizard of Cause from New Orleans, Louisiana is reading Neverwhere April 6, 2012 - 1:12pm

vox audita's picture
vox audita from the Continental United States April 6, 2012 - 1:16pm

The Pen and the Penumbra, immortalized in ink.


This is of my as of yet unpublished novel, The Pen and the Penumbra. Ostensibly it symbolizes a world spilling out of a book, but it’s actually a literal translation of my protagonist’s schizophrenic delusion that by writing in his dead mother’s journal he can affect his environment. Each of the weather patterns in the tattoo is inspired by one of his hallucinations.

I got the tattoo a few months after I started writing, and it’s been my inspiration for the past five years to see it through to the end. Every morning I see it in the mirror, it reminds me that I can’t have an unfinished novel permanently inked on my arm. Even if it doesn’t get published, I need to know that I put everything I had into this book. Otherwise it’ll be a daily reminder of how I failed to live up to my potential.

Rubylea Demarco's picture
Rubylea Demarco from Portland, Oregon is reading every summer dies a swan, Aldous Huxley April 6, 2012 - 1:26pm
AliceNorth's picture
AliceNorth April 6, 2012 - 1:27pm
CiaraHoran's picture
CiaraHoran April 6, 2012 - 1:28pm

My beautiful Lord of the Rings tattoo.

It's the writing on the ring; it says "One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them" in the language of Mordor.

I've been a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings since I was 7 years old. I'm 18 now and delighted to have this tattoo on my foot :)

gelnolasco215's picture
gelnolasco215 from Honolulu, HI is reading Politically Correct Bedtime Stories by James Finn Garner April 6, 2012 - 1:42pm

Inspired by the novel Eat Pray Love, this self-drawn tattoo is a symbolism that translates to "Om Nama Shivaya" or "I honor the Divinity that resides within you" Half-agnostic and partially confused with my sense of self, I took initiative on soul-searching in between places that I have visited looking for faith in myself and faith in a Supreme Being. My realisation is, the Personification of one's faith need not be pronounced as an item of celebrity. The heart of religion is faith--and by that being it should not defy the notion itself by being culturally or geographically imposed. And for that I have RESPECT for all religion that have their own sense of Divinity--the Divine what, or the Divine who.

Whether your religion's Divinity or "god" translates to the Love, Buddha, Allah, the Universe or the Michelin man who always saves you on the freeway, my religion of Respect
it's the religion that fuels my travels across the plethora of many cultural religions of the globe--and this religion I have surely doesn't create that much difference between your 'god' and mine.

This ultimately symbolizes faith in myself (I drew the design by hand) and my respect for the "Supreme Being" in whatever form, size or shape people esoterically believe in across the globe.

Napoleon's picture
Napoleon April 6, 2012 - 1:44pm

The Pigasus is the drawing John Steinbeck often used as his signature, including the latin phrase which means "to the stars on the wings of a pig." I wanted his actual drawing, and the tattoo artist argued with me about it because she did not think the artwork was quality. I'm glad Steinbeck won out. I'm always reminded of the playful perserverance of his characters when I see my flying pig.

clichedemorgy's picture
clichedemorgy April 6, 2012 - 1:49pm

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here."

I love Shakespeare and The Tempest is my favorite of his plays. What better way to immortalize him and his work than in a tattoo?

Christina Barrett's picture
Christina Barrett from Long Island, New York April 6, 2012 - 1:53pm

Lines from Shel Silverstein's "Forgotten Language" and accompanying flower and strarlings on wrists. 

elizabeth ruth's picture
elizabeth ruth April 6, 2012 - 1:55pm
damoneorone's picture
damoneorone from Hobbs, New Mexico is reading Imperial Bedrooms April 6, 2012 - 1:58pm

A quote from The Little Prince by Antoine  de Saint Exupéry.  "What is essential is invisible to the eye."  This is tattooed around my right forearm.  I also incorporated the crown to symbolize the little prince, as well as the rose and the fox, two important characters in the story.

Eric Coyote's picture
Eric Coyote April 9, 2012 - 12:48am

Seven-headed dragon backpiece inspired by the Book of Revelations. (A couple of the dragon heads sadly aren't visible in this photo.)

Or at:

alexlightle's picture
alexlightle from Southern California is reading Brave New World - Huxley April 6, 2012 - 2:09pm

Not a soul
But felt a fever of the mad and play'd
Some tricks of desperation. All but mariners
Plunged in the foaming brine and quit the vessel,
Then all afire with me: the king's son, Ferdinand,
With hair up-staring,--then like reeds, not hair,--
Was the first man that leap'd; cried, 'Hell is empty
And all the devils are here.'

From The Tempest; Shakespeare

Tracie Maslak's picture
Tracie Maslak April 6, 2012 - 2:17pm

This is my homage to "The Chronicles of Narnia." It's my artist's interpretation of what Narnia looks like from the description given in "The Last Battle." "Further up and further in!" is a quote from the end of the same book. The other quote ("Can you still feel the butterflies?") is not literary, but instead a lyric from the Jimmy Eat World song "For Me This is Heaven."


David Minder's picture
David Minder April 6, 2012 - 2:40pm

Here's my literary tattoo:

The reason I got it was Aldous Huxley’s “The Island”, which is a utopian novel. In the novel, Mynah birds fly around singing out “Attention Attention!” bring people into the moment.


I have a few quote examples on this page:

Celine de Wit's picture
Celine de Wit April 6, 2012 - 2:41pm

Here's my Haruki Murakami - Wind-up Bird chronicles tattoo

Leonard's picture
Leonard April 6, 2012 - 2:43pm

Direct quote out of Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk.


I loved it from the very first time I read the book. It's spot on as far as my beliefs go and I couldn't have gotten it anywhere but down my spine. The combination of the quote (at least my perception) and the placement of it, are what make the tattoo mean so much to me.




pollux lynch's picture
pollux lynch April 6, 2012 - 2:56pm
Amy Smith's picture
Amy Smith is reading Abnormal Psychology April 6, 2012 - 3:20pm

Pretty self-explanatory, but I just really connected with this book. I have always struggled with my body, from anorexia to thyroid problems to reproductive issues. Invisible Monsters for some reason made me feel like I wasn't weird for hating society for handing me these rules for happiness that I was incapable of adhering to. As far as placement goes, I just didn't want to have to explain it every day, considering it's pretty personal.

nfrsbmschmck's picture
nfrsbmschmck from portland me is reading The Rules of Attraction April 11, 2012 - 10:17am

here is a little flickr set that has my three literary tattoos. the sleeve is still in progress [just got work done less than a week ago!] and potentially the least literary, but i'll see if i can justify it. =]


my first tattoo, the interrobang. even though this isn't all that prevalent in most literature, it is the best piece of punctuation out there.


my third tattoo [second literary one] is based on the cover illustration for the graphic novel of The Fountain by Darren Aronofsky and Kent Williams


my fourth tattoo is potentially not literary in the specific sense you mean that it is based on some piece of fiction. but i consider it to be literary even though it has never officially been written down. the concept of the piece is based on A Silver Mt Zion's song Built Then Burnt [Hurrah! Hurrah!]. this text is hard to pin down as they are not sung, but spoken by a child at the beginning of the song, as a call to arms. are the words lyrics, a poem, a speech, or something else? who knows. but they are words so enjoy the poorly taken pics [my iphone's camera never was the same after i took him apart]!


[edit]because the pictures of this tattoo are sort of shitty, it might need to be explained that the general design of the piece is supposed to look like torn pieces of graph paper[/edit]

Nbarrera0407's picture
Nbarrera0407 April 6, 2012 - 3:28pm
aodon830's picture
aodon830 April 6, 2012 - 3:42pm

Inspired by Chuck Palahnuik - Fight Club. This is my all-time favorite quote. It reminds me that even with failrure, you can have motivation for success.!/photo.php?fbid=10150090495281417&set=t.580286416&type=3&theater

Gabriel Pumple's picture
Gabriel Pumple April 6, 2012 - 4:21pm

I have a psuedo-sleeve that is a quote from both Sandman and Ovid's Metamorphosis. it says, "Omnia Mutantur Nihil Interit" or 'everything changes, nothing is lost'!/GabePumple/status/188402432471072768/photo/1

Angela Locati's picture
Angela Locati April 6, 2012 - 4:32pm


the words are taken from Chuck Palahniuk's Invisible Monsters. 'The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.'

monKeycat's picture
monKeycat from San Juan Island/Black Rock City/Los Angeles is reading A Confederacy of Dunces April 6, 2012 - 4:42pm
Cassandra L.'s picture
Cassandra L. from Melbourne is reading A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole April 6, 2012 - 4:51pm

I just want to say I freakin' adore this thread. Good luck to the judges, 'cause I have no idea how you're going to pick a winner. So much damn-fine ink . . . 

No literary tattoos for me, sadly (unless you want to consider my two ravens as Huginn and Muninn (which I do) or a homage to Poe or something (which I don't), or the feather on my foot as a quill (which it's not; it's a feather)). I'm hoping to get a writing-themed momento mori over my heart when my first story is published in May but that will depend on finances.

talulahgosh's picture
talulahgosh April 6, 2012 - 4:53pm

reads: bao chai (top, horizontal), dai yu (bottom, horizontal), bao yu (vertical).  these are the three main characters from the story of the stone (aka dream of the red chamber) by cao xueqin.  i haven't stopped reading this book since i started a decade ago--i just keep re-reading it, it's so complex and full of characters.  i read david hawkes translation, btw.

inxthexred's picture
inxthexred April 6, 2012 - 5:15pm

Well the story to mine is simple. I've always wanted a bird tattoo and my favorite book has a dead bird on the cover. So here it is! The dead songbird from the cover of Chuck Palahniuk's Lullaby. It's on my left inner elbow.

Tattoo by the amazing Manuel Lorenzana @ The Dolorosa Tattoo Company (Studio City)

JimmyThing's picture
JimmyThing from Illinois is reading Textbooks :/ April 6, 2012 - 5:18pm

My tattoo is inspired by a hiku in Chuck Palahniuk's novel Fight Club.

"Without just one nest,
A bird can call the world home.
Life is your career."

I designed the tattoo myself. The bird I choose is a pelegrine falcon. It is the fastest flight bird. It eats other birds. And it can survive in any climate.

kristennhc's picture
kristennhc from St.Catharines, ON Canada is reading Pygmy April 6, 2012 - 6:58pm

Here are my three literary tattoos!

My first tattoo, a writing quill:

"May I never be complete."  Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk:

Foot quotation marks:

Muhammad Goldstein's picture
Muhammad Goldstein April 6, 2012 - 7:06pm

Somerset Maugham is my favoritte writer.  Of Human Bondage is the best written and most realistic work of fiction I have ever read.  So this pun tattoo is my homage to all of the works of W. Somerset Maugham.  It is also my heart on my sleeve.  The Acronym TANSTAAFL (There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch) I took from Robert Heinlein's The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, which has one of the few examples of a libertarian/anarchist revolution that I have ever come across that doesn't get weighed down with idealism and rhetoric.!/photo.php?fbid=202260666553671&set=a.107861345993604.15864.100003092175433&type=3&theater!/photo.php?fbid=202260599887011&set=a.107861345993604.15864.100003092175433&type=3&theater

Kerstynn Lane's picture
Kerstynn Lane from peru is reading scott westerfield April 6, 2012 - 7:41pm

quote from anime: fooly cooly flcl

(inside of arm) umbrella corporation's motto from resident evil

from chuck palaknuik's newest book damned :)