Fat City by Leonard Gardner (Univ. of Calif., $25). The most realistic account of boxing I've ever read. There is no televised bout or belt to be won, no such thing as the "one big fight." There is only a poster nailed to a whitewashed wall and a trainer so burned out on domestic life that, "when his children ran across the street without looking, he said nothing." To me, Fat City is a story about unending loss: what happens when the little things — splintered bones, damaged noses, swollen brows — add up.
My Story by Amy Fisher (out of print). An entirely unapologetic first-person account of attempted murder. Fisher never really knows what's going on, but she does realize that her life is going nowhere as she finds herself obsessing over her married lover — who happens to be the most manipulative auto body shop owner on all of Long Island. Unwittingly, she transcends the true crime genre and produces a perfectly concentrated lost-soul-swaying masterpiece.
Billy Phelan's Greatest Game by William Kennedy (Penguin, $14). An ode to fatherless men and champion drinkers living by night in the Downtown Health and Amusement Club. If you've never read William Kennedy, you should. He's the master of simile. Example: "Screwing your wife is like striking out the pitcher."
Whoreson by Donald Goines (Holloway House, $8). Whoreson Jones is the son of a beautiful black prostitute named Jessie. By age 16, Whoreson is a full-fledged pimp and deeply in love with his mom. One evening, Jessie decides to go on a date with her son in the living room.
The Girls in the Office by Jack Olsen (out of print). Billed in 1973 as "Lady Portnoy's Complaint," this collection of interviews with single women who all work in the same New York City office is funny, sexy, discomfiting. Their secrets are grim and they share them eagerly.
The Richard Burton Diaries ed. by Chris Williams (Yale, $35). One of the most charismatic men of our time was really just a loner who valued passion over goodness and thrived on freedom. He died at 58. Thankfully he didn't waste too much time trying to sober up.