The Boxer's Heart
by Kate Sekules/Villard, $23.95

Looking for a Fight
by Lynn Snowden Picket/The Dial Press, $23.95

In 1822 English essayist and fight aficionado William Hazlitt
made the claim that it was not impossible for a boxer to be a
gentleman. Indeed, he argued, a fellow may go so far as to "blow
out your brains" and still be a gentleman, unless "he uses foul
language at the same time." As broad-minded as Hazlitt was, he
would never have swallowed the notion that a boxer might be a
lady.

You've come a long way, boxing. Sekules and Snowden Picket are
accomplished New York journalists who took up the sport in the
late 1990s. Their boxing memoirs are vivid, frank and
well-written, but strikingly similar. Which book you prefer will
depend on whether you tend to root for flammable brawlers like
Snowden Picket or cerebral tacticians like Sekules.

Both women trained at Brooklyn's legendary Gleason's gym. Snowden
Picket is drawn there because, after enduring a humiliating
divorce, she is "tired of taking crap from guys" and craves "the
pleasure of pure violence." When an obnoxious yuppie strolls in
and hollers advice to her as she spars, she reaches over the
ropes and clocks him in the face while his 10-year-old son
watches in horror. Mean, yes, but she claims to be teaching a
valuable lesson: "Never tell a woman what to do if she happens to
be wearing boxing gloves."

Sekules also enters Gleason's with a chip on her shoulder,
vowing to "show what women can do," but finds that no one cares.
She has two professional bouts, including one against a sometime
model known as the Raging Belle. Believing Belle to be a poseur,
Sekules smashes her pretty nose with glee.

Sekules muses that "the ring is the one and only place where
you're allowed--no, encouraged--to toss out all your
sophisticated rules of moral and social behavior." The fact that
she doesn't wish to means she's not cut out to be a boxer.
That's O.K., because the pen is mightier than the glove, and
Sekules and Snowden Picket both wield the pen well.

Rope Burns
by F.X. Toole/The Ecco Press, $23

"I stop blood," writes Toole by way of introduction. Fight fans
may know him as Jerry Boyd, a cutman who has worked the corners
of such noted boxers as Jesus Salud and Antoine Byrd. He began
writing short stories based on his experiences, and it turns out
that Toole spins yarns as expertly as Boyd stanches wounds. Each
of the book's six stories features a character who is obviously
Toole's alter ego: a witty, street-smart Irish-American corner
man. For an honest fighter with genuine heart, the corner man is
willing to kill and die. Though Toole is a romantic--his
characters are either incorruptibly good or hopelessly evil--his
work provides a fascinating view of boxing's harshest realities,
from fake drug tests to crooked judges and Machiavellian
promoters.

The other theme that unites Toole's stories is race. "Ninety-five
percent of my friends and associates are of a different color
than I," he writes, and the boundaries created by our
preoccupation with skin color fascinate and enrage him. At times
he gets too preachy on the subject, but Toole is delightful when
he sticks to the things he does best: telling tales and stopping
blood.

COLOR PHOTO: VILLARD COLOR PHOTO: THE DIAL PRESS COLOR PHOTO: THE ECCO PRESS
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)