Recommend books on boxing for non-readers.
December 12, 2011 4:59 AM   Subscribe

My nephew is 20. He's starting college again. He doesn't read, so his essays are poorly written. The information is in there, but it is poorly structured, Capital letters appear for no Apparent reason, etc. If he read anything, ever, his writing would improve. But he won't. He likes boxing. Can anyone recommend a boxing book which would entertain him and is simple enough for him to understand ?
posted by devious truculent and unreliable to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think that your stated goal (helping him improve his writing by reading things) is excellent!

I also think that it's not necessarily the only way to go about things.

Most universities have a writing center or something similar, staffed by other students, both paid and volunteer. The services of this center are always free to students. Tell him to find his school's writing center and take an intro composition course. Both of these will give him the basic skills he needs, as well as other sets of eyes to look over his papers and give him corrections for the super basic stuff like random capitalization.

Academic writing is a skill that can be developed like any other.
posted by kavasa at 5:48 AM on December 12, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Lion and the Eagle come to mind. It's a great read on the world's first boxing championship. I'm not a fan of boxing at all, but this book was fascinating.

But to address the problem in your question if not the question you posed: as a professional writer, it was not reading that improved my essays at university but writing. If he likes boxing, perhaps he should start a blog on his favourite people, rings or fights. He could probably even get work experience at the local paper in the sports column. The writing centres at the university are valuable resources that are there to help him.

Your question makes you sound frustrated with him - if he wants to go to college, it seems counterintuitive that he doesn't want to read. Have learning difficulties such as dyslexia been ruled out?
posted by katiecat at 5:54 AM on December 12, 2011

If he read anything, ever, his writing would improve.

This is not a given. I've known more than a few executives and managers who read many things...mostly pulp fiction (Tom Clancy, for example) or management guru books, and their writing was still shockingly horrific.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:17 AM on December 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Joyce Carol Oates writes about boxing (an excerpt here, and see sidebar for links on Mike Tyson). But if he can't/won't read anything (and if he thinks Joyce Carol Oates on his favorite sport is stuffy and unreadable, god help him get through a standard academic core program), I agree that college "again" is doomed to failure. Trade school may be a much better option, in terms of cost-benefit analysis (and utility).
posted by availablelight at 6:17 AM on December 12, 2011

Also: Can anyone recommend a boxing book which would entertain him and is simple enough for him to understand ?

Does he have cognitive disabilities as well?
posted by availablelight at 6:18 AM on December 12, 2011

The Fight by Norman Mailer is a classic... but do push him towards the writing center, and have his eyesight and lexical processing checked.
posted by mimi at 6:39 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: Markus Zusak's top 10 boxing books, in the Guardian.

Zusak wrote "Fighting Ruben Wolfe" (and "The Book Thief," of course, but for our puposes, this is more pertinent).
posted by taz at 6:54 AM on December 12, 2011

I think the first step is to help him see how poor writing skills will hold him back from his goals. He has to consciously make an effort to learn to identify and fix the things you speak of; if he hadn't effortlessly acquired them by now, this is unlikely to change. Life doesn't have a writing center, so he should take advantage of one while he's got access. Do what you can to make an explicit connection between his desired profession and competent writing, and hopefully he will become motivated enough to start paying attention to theses things.
posted by smirkette at 6:55 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: First of all, I'm in the UK. I don't know if that affects anything, but maybe it does.

"Does he have cognitive disabilities as well?"

An excellent question. He is not clever, is limited academically and would be better getting an apprenticeship that led to him working with his hands, in my opinion. But today in the UK, there are few jobs so college is a fair place for him to be spending his time.

All that said, his future paths in life lie outside the question I asked. I only want a book recommendation.

Right now, Joyce Carol Oates is far beyond what he is capable of.

Right now, he is not going to start a blog or write for his local newspaper (although they are excellent suggestions for the future, many thanks for that).

Right now, he needs something straightforward to read that concerns a subject he likes, although, Thorzdad, your comment has given me pause for thought.

Many thanks for your answers.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:56 AM on December 12, 2011

The power of one is en excellent read and also very easy to read. Really really good.
posted by Ferrari328 at 7:03 AM on December 12, 2011 [8 favorites]

Is he willing to tackle academic texts if someone's available to book club with him? To piggyback on Thorzdad's comment, fiction may not help him develop academic writing skills, but reading academic writing will help. He'll need to have someone around who can help him pull it apart, though; if he's a struggling reader he probably won't pick up on the cues of good writing by himself.

That said, there are plenty of books on the history of boxing that may be helpful. Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times might be a good place to start. You can look at the first pages on Amazon to see if it's around his reading level. If you memail me I can probably dig up a few more books and articles.
posted by lilac girl at 7:09 AM on December 12, 2011

An idea - High-quality manga, perhaps?
posted by krilli at 7:15 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Longshot, by Katie Kitamura, is more on the mixed martial arts side (so there is a lot of boxing, but it's not exclusively boxing) but quite short and written in very simple language.
posted by villanelles at dawn at 7:17 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was going to recommend the power of one, myself. I think I read it in ninth grade (age 13 or 14?) But I actually kept it and reread it periodically until I eventually lost it. Until I read it I didn't know a thing about boxing but it really made the sport interesting to me.
posted by Arethusa at 7:22 AM on December 12, 2011

Mod note: A few comments deleted. The OP is asking for book recommendations, so let's stick to that please.
posted by taz (staff) at 7:37 AM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: lilac girl, (and others) I have failed to give you an accurate picture of his intellect. He isn't willing to read anything. Showing him an academic text would elicit the same response as a dog being shown a card trick. My idea was to trick him into doing something that's good for him but that he refuses to do, like hiding a stick of celery in a donut.

I have read the Hauser book myself and I don't know why I didn't think of it. Good suggestion.

Krilli, tell me more.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 7:41 AM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: I don't know of any boxing books, but another idea to get him reading would be to use the book money to get him several magazines on topics he is passionate about (and I bet there are boxing magazines out there). I have had success with magazines with students who are reluctant readers because they see it as reading a couple pages and then being done and able to move on to another story. If he is not much of a reader, an entire book could be intimidating. Of course, this might not accomplish your goal as well as having him read some serious novels would, but it might get him a bit more into reading.
posted by Nightman at 8:19 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Completely agree with Nightman. Here in the US, there are tons of magazines on boxing and related topics. Get him a couple of subscriptions. The chances of giving someone who doesn't read books the one book that will turn them around are very small. Plus, it seems natural and friendly to give someone a subscription to something they are interested. Giving this kid a book? You're telling him he should be reading and it's probably not the first time he's been told.
posted by BibiRose at 8:36 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Bonus for magazines (which I see you are agreeing with) is that they often have book reviews. Which might (just might) encourage him to get a copy of the book.

However, I don't know if boxing magazines actually include book reviews. But I am keeping my fingers crossed.
posted by bilabial at 8:43 AM on December 12, 2011

Following up on Nightman's suggestion, At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing is a collection of short pieces on boxing written by some great American writers. A lot of the pieces were originally written for magazines. I read the Jack London one and was immediately drawn in, and I'm not even a boxing fan. A fan of boxing would probably get more out of it than I did.
posted by bluefly at 9:03 AM on December 12, 2011

A (mostly UK, I think) boxing forum's short thread about magazines. It looks like Boxing Monthly and Boxing News are the frontrunners.

And the same forum has a much longer thread about best boxing books.
posted by taz at 9:06 AM on December 12, 2011

Also, you could look at books aimed at teens. Here's a well received biography of Muhammad Ali.
posted by bluefly at 9:14 AM on December 12, 2011

I like the idea of graphic novels. It's a good halfway point. Also might help him grab the concept of what he is reading with a visual reinforcement. Googling "boxing graphic novels" brings up a lot of options, but I am not sure how good they are.
posted by Vaike at 9:36 AM on December 12, 2011

Came to recommend the power of one and The Longshot.
Really, he won't make it through the Power of One yet, but just maybe he could handle the appropriately named Longshot. Enders Game starts out with a fight and is an easy read with a solid hook at the beginning.
posted by mearls at 12:16 PM on December 12, 2011

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte is a young adult minor classic here in the States. Should be easy enough for him to read (reading level is ages 13 and up) and I remember enjoying it as a non-boxing fan. More reviews on the U.S. Amazon page and there were a bunch of different UK editions available.
posted by jabes at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2011

(Just a quick inter-cultural note: in the UK, as I understand it, "college" means something closer to what "community college" means in the US, typically with lower-level courses and a more practical job-qualification focus. In the US "college" means "university." Also in the US, a university level education is significantly more expensive than in the UK. That may explain some of why American commenters were urgent about the difficulty of doing university courses without reading and the wasted expense.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:47 PM on December 12, 2011

Best answer: Actually, college (also known as 6th form) in the UK is more like 11th and 12th grade in the US, but students tend to study in a more specialised way - they're usually working towards 2 or 3 or 4 specific subject-related tests. A-levels are the more academic tests, BTECs are a more vocational option. The closest corollary to the A-level tests in the US education system would be AP subject tests. Not sure if there's any corollary to the BTECs.

Anyway, not an answer to your question, but a reassurance (of sorts). I work at a university. Not the most competitive in the country, but certainly not the least competitive. In fact, for a couple of subjects it's one of the best places to study in the UK. I can assure you that the quality of writing from many students here is execrable. No coherent structure, nonexistent grammar, spelling so bad that spell check can't even help. These students aren't graduating with a first, but they're graduating university. If he's going to college as an end in itself (to gain an NVQ, for example), it's entirely possibly that he'll be moderately successful without being able to write. So buy him some graphic novels and some magazines if it makes you feel better, but know that there's about a 98% chance he'll never so much as glance at them. And there's also a fairly decent chance he'll manage to grow up and become an independent adult in spite of that.
posted by cilantro at 1:29 PM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for your help, folks.
posted by devious truculent and unreliable at 6:06 AM on December 13, 2011

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