Pen & Ink: Tattoos and the Stories Behind Them

Tattoos themselves, whether the art is visible or not, are commonplace enough, but we seldom hear the stories that inspired them. For Pen & Ink, Isaac Fitzgerald, BuzzFeed Books editor and co-owner of The Rumpus, collaborated with illustrator Wendy MacNaughton to give us exactly what we wonder about every time we see a stranger's interesting body art.

That isn't to say everyone in here is a stranger: there are literary marvels Cheryl Strayed and Roxane Gay, former gang leader Raymond "Shrimp Boy" Chow, illustrator Carson Ellis and more. The tattoos and their stories are as often delightful as they are heartrending. Most succinct is the text from warehouse manager Siobhan Barry, whose toes read pizza party. "I really f*cking love pizza," she explains. Other stories are much more involved. Writer and public speaker Mona Eltahawy had Sekhmet, Egyptian goddess of retribution and sex, tattooed on her wrist after her capture and violent interrogation while on assignment in Egypt, "to both celebrate my survival and make a mark on my body of my own choosing."

Beautifully illustrated, Pen & Ink pairs stories with 4-color drawn facsimiles of the tattoos. It is more than a keepsake for tattoo enthusiasts; it is an artifact of diverse, deeply human histories, like the cave paintings of Lascaux or an illuminated manuscript, a compilation of intimate knowledge we can only hope to see continued in the future. --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

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