A Literary A-Z: M

Feel free to add your own favourites. Any book title, or the surname of an author, as long as it begins with the letter ‘M’.

As long ago as 1909, E. M. Forster published an incredibly prescient novella, ‘The Machine Stops’. This looks ahead to a world where humans live in isolation underground, communicating by video messaging, and with every need supplied by an all-powerful global machine. A few still exist on the surface, getting by as best as they can with no help from the mysterious machine. Then as the title suggests, one day the machine just stops. Unable to cope without it, society disintegrates, and the surface-dwellers offer mankind’s only hope for any future. This book is well over 100 years old, yet suggests a future reliant on technology, a communication system similar to the Internet, and issues surrounding environmental catastrophe. Forster must have been something of a genius, or perhaps a time-traveller?

Few books I have read have had the ability to break my heart as I read them. One powerful novel that did just that was ‘Angela’s Ashes’, by Frank McCourt. This is a 1996 memoir of the author’s own childhood in the city of Limerick, in Ireland during the 1930s and 1940s. Abject poverty, alcoholism, and the controlling power of the Catholic Church, all come to life on these pages. Travelling from the USA back to the homeland of Ireland, then struggling to get enough money to make the return trip, the early part of Frank’s life is described in all of its heart-rending detail. This is not only a personal account, as it also tells us much about the social history of the country during that period. It is an amazing book, and was also made into a terrific film in 1999, starring Robert Carlyle and Emily Watson.

Another from E. M. Forster, his 1913 novel, ‘Maurice’. Because of its subject matter of homosexuality, this book was not published until 1971, after the death of the author. Starting with life in a public school before the outbreak of WW1, with Maurice failing to understand the need for a conventional marriage, or life with a woman, it moves on to the university years, where Maurice meets Clive, and begins a sexual relationship with him. When Clive decides to marry a woman, Maurice is devastated, and seeks treatment to try to ‘cure’ his homosexual desires. But he eventually finds love with another man, Alec, and is prepared to forego his social status to be with him. In our modern world, it may seem hard to fully understand the social stigma of homosexuality in the early 20th century. Forster’s novel portrays a claustrophobic world of the well-educated and privileged, but offers an insight into the difficulties encountered. It was later made into a film, starring James Wilby, and Hugh Grant.

I left out Stephen King from ‘K’, as I knew I would be featuring one of his novels in this letter. One of his best, as far as I am concerned, and also benefiting from a near-perfect film adaptation, ‘Misery’ was published in 1987, and is a great book about obsession, and the lengths people will go to to satisfy it. The story of a novelist, and his ‘superfan’ is probably known to almost everyone by now, whether from the book, or the film. But it is worth revisiting. After wrecking his car in the mountains, writer Paul Sheldon is rescued by a woman, Annie Wilkes. Delighted to discover his identity, she tells him that she is his number one fan, and that she will nurse him back to health. What follows is a series of events that include holding Sheldon captive, drugging him, and revealing the true nature of Annie. A real page-turner, and I couldn’t put it down.

Leaving you with lots of choices for ‘M’, my pick for today is the seafaring tale from Herman Melville, ‘Moby Dick’. (Double- M!) Published in 1851, this story of harsh conditions on whaling ships has been filmed several times, most notably by John Huston in 1956, starring Gregory Peck and Orson Welles. The story tells of the obsession of Captain Ahab to hunt down and kill a great white whale that he has named Moby Dick. I read this book as a child, and I was fascinated by the descriptions of the crew, and life aboard the ship. It also has incredibly accurate details about the process of whaling, the extraction of the valuable whale oil, and just how hard life was for the crews who depended on hunting whales for a living. In these enlightened days, most of us feel sympathy for these majestic creatures, and would like to see an end to whaling. This book has to be read in its historical context, at a time when whale oil provided the means for most people to light their homes, and offered a living to the sailors on hundreds of whaling ships in the USA.

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61 thoughts on “A Literary A-Z: M

  1. Great selection – as always!
    I love Winnie the Pooh and Mobby Dick

    The book Angela`s ashes has touched me very much. Very well written! I don`t know the film. But I like Robert Carlyle. I saw him in The full monty and Once upon a time!

    I add: Margaret Mitchell`s “Gone with the wind” – Simply brilliant.
    Guy de Maupassant, Jojo Moyes and German authors:
    Thomas Mann, Ina Mueller, Thankmar von Muenchhausen – he wrote about the City of Paris ( My absolute favorite city ).

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Olivia Manning – The Balkan Trilogy. A good read, set during the war and featuring Athens. I must confessed I’m a little overwhelmed by this A to Z, Pete. No sooner have I thought of a book to add that another five people mention it – together with another hundred I’ve not read and which I’m tempted to add to my toppling TBR file. And here I thought I was a bookworm! So many books, so little time….Sigh…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You echo my own sentiments, Marina. I have already bought two more secondhand books based on these suggestions, and I have been sent an e-book too. I would have to stop blogging to be able to read them, so it’s a Catch 22 situation.
      (Oops, that’s a book too! 🙂 )
      Thanks for your trilogy recommendation.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m late to this one, Pete…busy day yesterday. M is Thomas Mann ‘The Magic Mountain’, and one from a photographer, Don McCullin. But perhaps most of all, Dame Rose Macaulay…’Pleasure of Ruins’

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve read Angela’s Ashes. There were two more books after that by Frank McCourt, ‘Tis and Teacher Man. Have you read Peter Mayle’s memoirs? They’re wonderful. L.M. Montgomery of the series Anne of Avonlea, Kelly Moran’s books and Jojo Moyes. I love the poems of Rod McKuen, Alone and Seasons in the Sun. Thomas Merton’s works will always be great reads. I love the classic Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As a child one of my favorites was “Madeline.” “in the middle of the night, Miss Clavel put on the light and said “something is not right.” A couple of years ago I had my appendix out (at 67) and received a Madeline doll complete with appendix scar.

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  6. James Michener with his famous novel “The Drifters” which was one of the books I enjoyed reading whilst travelling myself! “Caravans” and “Hawaii” are both historical sagas I have read. Deon Meyer is someone else I enjoy reading with his flawed (aren’t they all?) alcoholic detective set in Cape Town. And of course another mention of Peter May with his Lewis trilogy. “The Black House”, “Lewis Man”, and “The Chessmen” all good reads.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I absolutely cried buckets when I read Angela’s Ashes. Frank McCourt may have started writing later in life, but what a gifted author he was. And thank you for including Misery. As you know I’m a little bit of a fan of King’s, and Misery is definitely in my top 5 of his books. I loved the movie as well. Here are my M selections:
    Madame Bovary – Flaubert
    M.C. Higgins the Great – Hamilton
    Macbeth – Shakespeare
    Malory Tower series – Blyton
    The Man In the High Castle/Minority Report – Dick
    The Man In the Iron Mask – Dumas (pere)
    Maniac Mages – Spinelli
    Mansfield Park – Austen
    Manna From Heaven – Zelzny
    The Marble Faun – Hawthorne
    Marjorie Morningstar – Wouk
    The Martian Chronicles – Bradbury
    Mary Anne – du Maurier
    Memoirs Of A Geisha – Golden
    The Memoirs Of Sherlock Holmes – Doyle
    The Metamorphosis – Kafka
    Middlemarch – Eliot
    Middlesex – Eugenides
    Midnight In the Garden Of Good and Evil – Berendt
    The Midwife’s Apprentice – Cushman
    Migraine – Sachs
    Mile 18 – Uris
    Mildred Pierce – Cain
    Miracleman – Gaiman
    Miracle On 34th Street – Davies
    The Mists Of Avalon – Bradley
    Moby Dick – Melville
    Man With the Golden Gun/Moonraker – Fleming
    Le Morte D’Arthur – Malory
    The Mosquito Coast – Theroux
    The Moist Dangerous Game – Connell
    Mother Night – Vonnegut
    A Moveable Feast – Hemingway
    Mrs. Dalloway – Wolff
    My Antonia – Cather
    The Mysterious Stranger – Twain

    Authors: Thomas Malory, Betty MacDonald, Patricia MacLachlan, Gregory Maguire, Norman, Mailer, William Make peace, Yann Martel, George R.R. Martin, Richard Matheson, W. Somerset Maugham, Armistead Maupin, Cormac McCarthy, Frank McCourt, Robert McCloskey, David McVullough, Ian !McEwan, Robin McKinley, Larry !McMurty, Richelle Mead, Herman Melville, Larissa Meyer, Walter Dean Meyers. China Mieville, Arthur Miller, A.A. Milne, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Margaret Mitchell, L.E. Modesitt, L.M. Montgomery, Clement Clark Moore, Liane Moriarty, Toni Morrison, Kate Mosse, Jojo Moyes, Robert Munsch.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think you have covered ‘M’ very comprehensively, Kim. Thanks for all your input with this letter, and all the other letters too. I can recommend the film of ‘Angela’s Ashes’, if you haven’t seen it.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Interesting! Thanks, Pete, “The Machine Stops” reminds me of H.G.Wells’ “Time Machine” and seems very timely, I’m reading more and more discussions of what to do with all us useless humans, once automation takes over, I’ll read this.
    But please, don’t call me, Ishmael, I embarrassed that I haven’t ever made it through your book, even the graphic novel version “Ish & The Fish,” but I’m determined to try again.
    I’d recommend: David McCullough = “Mornings on Horseback” “Truman” “John Adams” “The Great Bridge”. Haven’t read too much of his work, but José Martí wrote some excellent poetry. And two unusually good mystery writers. Ross Macdonald = even in sunny California, you can have “film noir” mysteries. James McClure = excellent South African mysteries, that also convey a society during apartheid.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for the link! And sorry for the irreverence, I know Moby Dick is reckoned to be one of those books that every educated person should read, but speaking for myself, a lot of 19th c. works require a quiet room, and time, and I just can’t do it as a few pages on the bus, etc. It might be a good candidate for an audio book on long walks.
        You’ve probably seen the Lew Archer movies with Paul Newman? those were from some of Macdonald’s books.
        You’re getting a lot of interesting responses, how could I forget A.A. Milne!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I left him out, expecting everyone to go with Winnie The Pooh! I have seen those Newman films. They changed the surname to ‘Harper’. No need to apologise about Moby Dick. I don’t really hold with having to be reverential to written works, but films now, they’re different! 🙂
          Best wishes, Pete.

          Liked by 1 person

  9. Time to stop by for ‘M’ and a great writer, Candice Millard. She writes gripping non-fiction. ‘Destiny of a Republic, a Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President’ (Garfield); and ‘The River of Doubt, Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey’; both excellent. I need to read her new book, ‘Hero of the Empire, The Boer War, A daring escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill’.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Interesting choices, Pete. I’ve never read any Forster, so will look into adding some of his to my Kindle – including ‘The Machine Stops’. Unfortunately, ‘Angela’s Ashes’ isn’t available in that form.

    Meanwhile, Michael Morpurgo comes to mind. He’s written some excellent children’s books, of which ‘War Horse’ is probably the most well-known. The stage production of this was excellent – way better than the film. I found ‘Private Peaceful’ very moving as well.

    While on the subject of children’s books, there’s also A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, which I loved as a child. Also Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ which I discovered relatively recently and enjoyed as a somewhat amusing insight into the sensibilities of the time.

    Adult books? I’m sure there must be some, but I’m at a loss right now…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Ros. I can also recommend Forster’s ‘Howard’s End’. A great film was made of that too. I have read ‘Private Peaceful’, and it is very moving. But I hated the film adaptation of ‘War Horse’ with a vengeance. I deliberately left out Milne, as I was sure so many people would mention ‘Winnie The Pooh’.
      ‘The Machine Stops’ is available as a free download. Here’s a link.
      http://manybooks.net/titles/forstereother07machine_stops.html
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. My first ever “wanderlust” book was by Peter Mayle, “A Year In Provence.” The terrific TV series cemented it for me, and I have all of his south of France adventures, fiction and non-fiction. My friend Michael Ruhlman wrote the greatest book about aspiring chefs: “The Making Of A Chef” – a year at the Culinary Institute. Now I want to travel again and eat decadent food – happens every time!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you very much for sharing! I’ve always meant to read Moby Dick (I have a bit of an obsession with whales) and on your recommendation, I will pick up a copy from the library as soon as I get the chance!

    My ‘M’ books would be Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (my all-time favourite book – reading it feels like comfort food to me, seeing as I’ve read it and loved it so many times), The Mice of Mousehole by Michelle Cartlidge (a children’s book, but one that made me fall in love with books forever as a little’un), Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (my favourite by Jane Austen, whom I adore partly because she lived in my hometown/area), and The Muse by Jessie Burton.

    Great post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks very much Ellora. ‘Moby Dick’ maybe somewhat dated in style, but no less so than Jane Austen. I read ‘Mansfield Park’ many years ago at school, but I did watch an excellent BBC adaptation in the 1980s, starring Anna Massey. It was very faithful to the book. Your other suggestions are much valued too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. It seems to me our tastes are more in harmony with books than music for I enjoy 99 percent of your choices and want to read the remaining 1 percent. So great! My M I can add would be . Man in the Iron Mask, Moll Flanders, Mrs. Dalloway, and Memoirs of a Geisha. I like Arthur Miller’s plays.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Many years ago, I saw ‘Death of A Salesman’ at the theatre in London. But try as I might, I cannot remember the name of the lead actor. Glad to hear that we are in ‘literary synch’, Cindy. I also very much enjoyed ‘Moll Flanders’, as an historical romp.
      Best wishes as always, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Fascinating selection. I’d never heard of The Machine Stops! You’re far better read than I am! I give you The Magus (again), Nancy Mitford, Armistead Maupin, and The Harlot’s Progress by my dear, late friend, Peter Mottley. It’s part of a trilogy but only this, the first one, has been published (after his death) and his daughter has had problems with the publishers and getting the other two published which is criminal. It’s an incredibly good tale, full of the sights and sounds of the eighteenth century and based on Hogarth’s etchings – bawdy and brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. My fiction first….”Man With The Golden Gun” Ian Fleming…..An anthology….The Mysterious West by Tony Hillerman…..”Modern Middle East” by Mehran Kamrava…..”Mesopotamia” by Gwendolyn Leick and finally “Moscow: December 25, 1991” by Conor O’Clery…..that is my deal for the day….onward to coffee and rest…LOL chuq

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Immediately, “Mexico” from James Mitchener comes to mind. Then, “Marker” by Robin Cook and “Mason and Dixon” by Pynchon. For military, “My Detachment” by Kidder. I just know there are a bunch here I’m forgetting!!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Two of Australia’s most famous cookbook authors are Margaret Fulton and Maggie Beer. I know those are first names rather than surnames, but thought they were worth mentioning for those who might not know them.

    A most amazing non-fiction book is ‘In the Spirit of Crazy Horse’ by Peter Matthiessen.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I was looking for it through the library (it is listed as a separate short story available as an eBook through Overdrive, but the library does not have it in their collection, so I recommended to them that they purchase it) and I found another collection of short stories I have downloaded, but not the Collected Short Stories published in 1947 that includes this particular story. So thanks for that link!

        Liked by 1 person

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