Manchild in the Promised Land by Claude Brown (1965). Fierce, unsparing language and plenty of street jive power this autobiographical novel recounting Brown’s early life as a drug dealer, hustler, and thief amid the numbers runners, prostitutes, cops, and hardworking parents of Harlem in the 1940s and 1950s.
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814). Fanny Price is the least loved of Austen’s heroines: “prig” is a common complaint of her critics. It’s true that reticent, unsure Fanny Price, sent to live with her cold, wealthy relatives, lacks the Austen spunk.
Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon (1997). Charles Mason (1728-1786) and Jeremiah Dixon (1733-1779) were the British surveyors best remembered for running the boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland that we know today as the Mason-Dixon Line.
Masters of the Dew by Jacques Roumain (1947).
Appreciation of Jacques Roumain’s Masters of the Dew by Edwidge Danticat
Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks (1953). Brooks is best known for her poetry about African American life in Chicago, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Annie Allen (1949). In Maud Martha, Brooks switches to prose fiction, recounting the stages of a young woman’s life during the 1930s and 1940s.
McTeague by Frank Norris (1899). Gritty realism, social conscience, and American dreams power this tale of an oafish mineworker who becomes an unlicensed dentist in San Francisco. He marries a young woman and together they share a happy life, until she wins a small fortune in the lottery.
Medea by Euripides (431 b.c.e.). What would you do if the man who promised you love, children, and a throne, after convincing you to slay your brother and exile yourself from your home, decided to marry a richer woman instead?
Memoirs of Hadrian by Marguerite Yourcenar (1951). The French author started her novel at age twenty-one; she rediscovered it at forty-six, ending a mammoth bout of writer’s block. Two years later she completed this intimate first-person narrative of the second-century emperor.
Metamorphoses by Ovid (8 c.e.). Shining through Ovid’s poetic encyclopedia of myths involving the transformations of gods and humans is this Heraclitean truth: existence is change. His versions of Orpheus, Narcissus, Pygmalion, and Hercules have been etched in our collective memory. Yet he was, as a critic once said, “counter-classical”—fun rather than imperial, personal rather than grave.
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981). Years before The Satanic Verses, Rushdie had already won the Booker Prize for this reverential and blasphemous novel. Two babies born at the precise moment modern India came into existence—one Muslim, one Hindu—are then switched at birth and grow up in the other’s faith.