Maud Martha

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

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

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?

Metamorphoses

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

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.

Mildred Pierce

Mildred Pierce by James M. Cain (1941). After shedding her philandering, unemployed husband, Mildred Pierce works menial jobs to support her two children before discovering a gift for making and selling pies in Depression-era California. She’s a strong woman with two fatal flaws—an attraction to weak men and blind devotion to her monstrously selfish daughter Veda.

Moby-Dick

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851). This sweeping saga of obsession, vanity, and vengeance at sea can be read as a harrowing parable, a gripping adventure story, or a semiscientific chronicle of the whaling industry.