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On Boxing [Unknown Binding]

Joyce Carol Oates
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

4 Sep 1997
Joyce Carol Oates explores the world of professional boxing, examining the subject from many angles: boxing as metaphor, spectacle and history, boxing as seen in literature and film and by women. The author chronicles many famous figures such as Jack Dempsey, Barry McGuigan, Joe Louis and others.;Oates writes of "stiffs and bums" who make a living out of losing and the big-earning champs like Ali who made $70 million with his fists. She explores boxing's links with racism and the violent streets - long the recruiting ground for generations of professional pugilists.;Joyce Carol Oates is also author of the novel "Marya: A Life", "A Garden of Earthly Delights" and "Them", winner of the 1970 National Book Award.

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Product details

  • Unknown Binding: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing; New edition edition (4 Sep 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747537666
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747537663
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 12.8 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,298,461 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She has written some of the most enduring fiction of our time, including 'We Were the Mulvaneys', which was an Oprah Book Club Choice, and 'Blonde', which was nominated for the National Book Award. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of Humanities at Princeton University.

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First Sentence
The young welterweights are surely conscious of the chorus of jeers, boos, and catcalls in this great cavernous space reaching up into the cheap twenty-dollar seats in the balconies amid the constant milling of people in the aisles, the commingled smells of hotdogs, beer, cigarette and cigar smoke, hair oil. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An Academic Writes Boxing 18 Jan 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Oates's study of boxing is based on her long-standing interest in the sport and is informed by her attendance at some of the matches she discusses. Her perspective as an academic leads to a genuine effort to understand the contradictions of that crazy yet compelling activity, probably best named prize-fighting. Her book is unusual in the intelligence of its insights and I would recommend it to any thoughtful fan of the not always so sweet science.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not for your typical boxing fan. 12 Mar 2010
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This was probably the most difficult book i had to rate, As mentioned in the title if you are the typical boxing fan, then avoid at all cost, it is not for you. However, if you are both a fan of boxing AND fond of literature (you read hemingway and budd schulberg) and want to see the two intertwine then this may appeal to you (strong emphasis on the may). It provides a narrative that could not be produced by a male, the author Joyce Oates, is an author of many books, and none like this. Many critics claim she has entitled herself to a nobel prize in literature, i write this so you understand what type of read to prepare for, this is not Mcllvaney, it is not shulberg and it is certainly not bert sugar, it is a female perspective on a masculine sport. One thing i do commend the author for is her ability to bring to surface all the emotions that evolve around and within that ring in such a beautifully poetical format, an ability i have not experienced with other authors of the fight game. Only for a special type of reader.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book! 15 Jan 2012
Well worth the money and a great read! I read it in a weekend, buy it, borrow it, read it.
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Review 13 Feb 2012
It was very hard to find a hard back copy of this book as it is not being printed any more so it was wonderful to find one on here and in such good condition. Thanks you.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.8 out of 5 stars  26 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Take It From a Fighter 8 April 2004
By A Customer - Published on
I am still stunned that a person who has never been in the ring could have gained insights into boxing as powerful as the ones Oates pulled together in this book. And I'm grateful (and stunned) that a woman could be as sympathetic, not just to fighters, but to men and manhood, as Oates has managed to be in this book.
I am a serious amateur fighter and a sparring partner to the professional fighters I train with. I do gym work or road work five days a week with a former-professional trainer who was also a two-time NY Golden Gloves champion and junior Olympian. I spar Glovers and pros and I love it. I understand boxing and the love for boxing. The gist of my review here is this: After I read this book I realized I didn't understand my love for boxing -- where it comes from and what it all means and what it is I'm doing exactly -- as well as Joyce Carol Oates does. This woman is amazing to me. I've never read her fiction, but I will.
The first section of this book, the one in which Oates seemingly tries to take on boxing and what it means from every imaginable angle, is best. This is one of those very, very few books that made me fold down corners so that I can easily return to specific passages. I don't know if non-fighters will really understand this book, or if many fighters will ever bother to read it. But I'm damned glad I did and damned glad Ms. Oates is out there writing.
28 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Sugar Ray Oates 16 Feb 2002
By MICHAEL ACUNA - Published on
The sport of Boxing, on the surface at least, does not automatically come to mind as obvious subject matter for the premier writing talents of Joyce Carol Oates; even though Ms. Oates certainly can get down and dirty with the best of them as in her "Man Crazy" or "Zombie."
But as Oates explains in her 1987 collection of essays (revised in 1994), "On Boxing":"No one whose interest began as mine did in childhood--as an offshot of my father's interest is likely to think of boxing as something else, a metaphor...Life is like boxing, in many respects. But boxing is only like boxing."
Oates is a boxing fan and a great writer and it was inevitable that these two facets of her life would converge.
"On Boxing" is really 3 separate essays: "On Boxing," "On Mike Tyson" and "The Cruelest Sport."
The first essay is so crammed full of fascinating, revelatory statements about the nature and function and the social and psychological nature of boxing that it is hard to pick out only a few to quote here. But I will try: "To enter the ring near-naked and to risk one's life is to make of one's audience voyeurs of a kind: boxing is so intimate. It is to ease out of sanity's consciousness and into another, difficult to name. It is to risk, and sometimes to realize, the agony of which "agon" (Greek, "contest") is the root."
In Oates view, the boxer brings more than his body to bear in the ring...he also brings his soul: "There are some boxers possessed of such remarkable intuition, such uncanny prescience, one would think they were somehow recalling their fights, not fighting them as we watch."
"On Boxing" the essay is also a boxing history lesson highlighting the careers of Jack Dempsey,Joe Louis, Muhammed Ali,Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran, etc.: their careers, their boxing styles, their defeats and in some cases their lives after the boxing ring: "the drama of life in the flesh. Boxing has become America's tragic theater."
The second essay, "On Mike Tyson," written in 1988 predates all of Tyson's legal troubles, court cases and incarceration. And so Oates, who had extensive access to Tyson, writes of his home,his dog and his friends in glowing terms.With Oates, Tyson is soft-spoken, courteous, sensitive, thoughtful and intospective. Things that in 2002 we do not normally associate with Mike Tyson. Never a pushover, Oates also quotes Tyson after his 1986 fight with the hapless Jesse Ferguson, whose nose was broken in the match, "I want to punch the bone into the brain...Tyson's language is as direct and brutal as his ring style, yet as more than one observer has noted, strangely disarming--there is no air of menace, or sadism, or boastfulness in what he says: only the truth."
Oates also speaks of a boxing match as a "catharsis" as Aristotle wrote: "the purging of pity and terror by the exercise of these emotions; the subliminal aftermath of classical tragedy."
The third essay, "The Cruelest Sport" details in part the physical toll of boxing. For example the 1980 Ali/Holmes fight in which Ali takes a tremendous beating from Holmes: in Sylvester Stallone's words, the fight was "like watching an autopsy on a man who's still alive." This as well as the Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire in 1974 began irreversible loss for Ali: progressive deterioration of Ali's kidneys, hands, reflexes and stamina.
"On Boxing" is Joyce Carol Oates's Ode to Boxing and by extension her father's interest in boxing, the smokiness of the arena, the smell of the hair oil and the hot dogs.And, even if you are not a boxing fan you cannot help but revel at the insights and amazing depth of feeling she brings to this subject and it's denizens.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Boxing Book Unparalleled 9 April 2007
By CV Rick - Published on
Where the most eloquent writers display their best prose is through passion. And the seeds of passion thrive in sex, exploitation, and violence. The human condition, written about by every writer but only successfully by a minority, is dissected and shaved away and exposed layer by layer until one gets to the core of what the soul is, of what separates us from our basest instincts. To that end, boxing is the true display of the human condition and the greatest writers have recognized this and have poured forth their own souls to capture the brutality that occurs inside the squared circle.

Joyce Carol Oates at first seems like an odd choice as an expert on the sport. A frail academic known for her moving stories of family interaction, she wouldn't at first strike you as a devotee to a sport that most academics abhor. But she is a lifelong fan. Her father was a fan and it seems that it runs in the blood. She's been going to matches and watching them on film since she was a young girl, and due to her thoughtful approach and extraordinary access she manages to coax the true spirit of the athletes from a myriad of interviews.

Many spectacular authors have written about the sport. Jack London, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and A.J. Liebling are a few that come to mind. None of those giants bring to the sport a cautious sensitivity that Oates does. Her prose are so rich that when reading this book, I had to frequently set it down and digest what I'd read. Like a rich chocolate, too much at one time would overload my senses, dulling me and causing me to miss nuance and ramble through the poetry. Her book is a treat, slowly and steadily read. It's a beautiful, sad, witty communique from someone who recognizes that we need the outlet, the raw power and relentless destruction that representatives of all of us can administer. Trained to the height of physical perfection, but unrestrained by conscience, boxers show us what we are all capable of doing, what we are all capable of enduring.

Her prose? Check this out:

"No sport is more physical, more direct, than boxing. No sport appears more powerfully homoerotic: the confrontation in the ring--the disrobing--the sweaty heated combat that is part dance, courtship, coupling--the frequent urgent pursuit by one boxer of the other in the fight's natural and violent movement toward the "knockout": surely boxing derives much of its appeal from this mimicry of a species of erotic love in which one man overcomes the other in an exhibition of superior strength and will. The heralded celibacy of the fighter-in-training is very much a part of boxing lore: instead of focusing his energies and fantasies upon a woman the boxer focuses them upon an opponent. Where Woman has been, Opponent must be."

This book, to me, is an inspirational, a prayer book, a series of thoughts meant to get me through life more positive and more in tune with my soul.

Livingstone Brambles, of whom I have acquaintance and of whom Oates writes glowingly, when told that she'd written about him in On Boxing said, "Man, she loves me."

Yes, she does, Champ. She loves all men who've donned gloves and tested their instincts in the ring, but more than most, she loves men like you who held nothing back, who gave their entire being over to training and instinct and sacrificed everything to survive and conquer. She loves you Livingstone, because you are who we all wish to be.

CV Rick
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Lady Knows Boxing 1 Feb 2003
By Ensio N Mikkola - Published on
And she's had long meaningful conversations with a pre-incarceration Mike Tyson. Before the ear biting and the crotch grabbing etc. The two chapters (actually essays) I highly recommend here are the one about Tyson and "Boxing: The Cruelest Sport." This is essentially a collection of essays Oates has written about boxing so they're a mixed bag. But it's worth getting for the two I mentioned.
20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not what you might expect 23 Nov 2002
By a void - Published on
I don't know what it is about Oates that makes so many, be they critics, fellow writers, or just average Joes and Janes, instinctively start spewing superlatives. Granted, some of what she's written is very good, but there are also those rather mediocre titles that seem to be praised to the skies for no other reason than that they're supposed to be, and that indeed appears to be the case with this little piece. It's amusing and it's informative, sure, but some kind of masterwork? Please.
`On boxing' is best when Oates focuses on the hard facts, like who did what where and when. That was not was I was looking for when I first got my hands on it, but it's still better - by far - than the parts where she tries to decipher the meaning of it all, which read like undergraduate assignments in pretentiousness. As is common with knowledgeable writers, Oates cannot help involving complex notions to say simple things. A boxer is not knocked out, he is knocked out of Time (yes, big `T'). The opponent is not the opponent, he is the Other (yes, big `O'). This is a practice I absolutely loathe. What we've got here is supposed to be a book about boxing, and if I wanted `Being and Nothingness' I'd have bought it. Don't get me wrong - certainly boxing could make for some profound commentary on the nature of humanity, which, I presume, is what she was aiming at (although I don't think she'd admit it). I'm just saying that with what she finally came up with you just keep wondering why she can't stick to the point, namely, that two people are trying to beat each other up.
Some people say this is the best that has ever been written on boxing. Obviously, they haven't looked very hard - even the Mailer quote on page 103 is enough to see why this is so.
Give it three stars for the moderately enjoyable journalism and, I almost forgot to say it, some beautiful photographs.
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