In the spirit of the ‘Literary Tattoos’ session at Melbourne Writers Festival, where festival-goers can get inked with a book-related design, the Affirm Press team reveals what our own literary tattoos would be.
Books definitely affect you more deeply when you’re teenager, and there’s always one or two that completely change your relationship to reading. For me that was the weird and hilarious Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. Ten years on my favourite memory of it is the Ukrainian narrator’s bad English, and how he kept referring to anything good as ‘premium’. So I’ll pick the word ‘premium’ – in a fancy font.
While I won’t be getting the tattoo at this event, I do have real plans for a literary tattoo. Pottermania peaked when I was nine years old, so my tattoo (spoiler alert!) will be the word ‘Always´, said by Severus Snape regarding his eternal love for Lily. The ‘A’ is made up by the Deathly Hallows symbol, and I’m planning to splash some colour around it – maybe even in the form of a patronus! (Disclaimer: I am not always this sappy, I just really like Harry Potter.)
‘Time’s a goon, right?’ – A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.
Time is an absolute goon and this book is an absolute gem.
The dandelion seeds from the original cover of Julian Barnes’s A Sense of an Ending. I wish I could say it was this book that set off my obsession with Julian Barnes, but in actual fact I fell in love with Julian after seeing an old photograph of him strolling off a cricket pitch with Martin Amis. Julian looks like a Greek god (and Martin Amis looks like a gremlin). I am also a huge fan of the designer, Suzanne Dean, who works on all of Julian Barnes’s titles. You can listen to her speak about the inspiration for this cover here, and read an interview with author and designer here.
‘Walk on air against your better judgement,’ by Seamus Heaney, who I find myself returning to more and more. And talking of doing things against one’s better judgement, it reminds me of when I was a young journalist working in Dublin and I knew they were replacing all the plaques on houses of cultural significance. At the time, I was half in love with an American woman who was a mad WB Yeats fan. I helped accelerate the removal of the ‘William Butler Yeats lived here’ plaque from Merrion Square in Dublin, and gifted it to this woman when she left the city. It was probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever done. She left it on the London Tube.
The sketch of the table on the front cover of Table of Everything by Trudy White. It’s a funny little book of meditative short stories interwoven with White’s dreamy illustrations. I’ve had my copy since it was published in 2000 (thanks, Mum), and I don’t think it’s been reprinted. I once lent it to a friend and she thought she’d lost it. I tried to buy a replacement and could only find it second-hand on eBay for around the $500 mark. Luckily my copy was recovered, and I’d be reluctant to lend it out again if it weren’t so spellbinding.
I found this really hard because most of the books I first thought of had a profound effect on me when I was in my early 20s. But getting a line from one of these books tattooed now just wouldn’t feel quite right (although I still love them all). The thing that feels the most right at this point in my life is the famous line from the E. E. Cummings poem, ‘I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart).’ For my mother, who I will always carry with me.
I would have to pick the ultimate literary bookworm – Roald Dahl’s Matilda, as drawn by Quentin Blake. Dahl’s odd, funny and touching novels were childhood favourites and are still treated to regular rereads, although my original copy of Matilda has long since fallen apart. Dahl’s magical books have such an incredible, enduring appeal, and they are a great reminder to never underestimate young readers.
‘Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it,’ from Norman Maclean’s A River Runs Through It.
Great movie, better book.