I’ve always been a fan of boxing. I watched fights with my dad during the Mike Tyson heyday. These days I can take it or leave it, as far as watching it goes, but I still love to read about it. I was reminded of this after picking up Katherine Dunn’s book One Ring Circus: Dispatches From The World of Boxing. During the introduction it talks about how most writers eventually get tempted to write about “The Sweet Science.” I wonder why this is. I do believe it’s true. There are so many authors out there who wrote the odd story about pugilism.
Anyway, there are some great books with boxing in them. For non-fiction, I’d steer you to Dunn’s book first. For fiction, here are three of my very favorites that are full of pugilism, anger, and rough men.
1. Rope Burns by FX Toole
This collection contains the story that became the movie Million Dollar Baby. Toole (pen name of Jerry Boyd) was a professional cutman. This short fiction collection is impossibly good. I’ve never read more simple, more effective writing. And the stories are wonderful. Open this book and you immediately inhabit the world of these trainers, boxers, shady promoters, and…well, let me just say that the last story made me cry. This is my favorite book of short stories. Hands down.
Also, Toole submitted short stories for decades before finally getting these stories published.
2. The Pugilist at Rest by Thom Jones
Thom Jones has written the ultimate book of men, rage, pills, boxing, and it’s got a handful of great war stories in it as well. But the stories about boxing were my favorite. It’s a rough book–lots of coarse language and material–but if you like it, continue with his others collection Cold Snap and Sonny Liston Was A Friend of Mine.
Pugilist was a finalist for the National Book Award when it came up. Whoever beat it needs to go ten rounds with in-his-prime Sonny Liston.
3. The Abysmal Brute by Jack London
It’s tragic that many people only know Jack London’s writing through White Fang and The Call of The Wild. This was an incredibly complex man who wrote stories that I’d nearly always file under Non-cheery. The Abysmal Brute is an exception. It’s a feel good story about a big strong farm boy–who also happens to be a boxing prodigy. He gets discovered by a promoter, gets whisked away to the big city, falls in love, and runs up against the ugly specters of greed, corruption, and fixed fighting. I can’t go any farther without spoiling things, but the end is as feel-good as it gets.
Feel free to add to the list.