A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (1595). The summit of Shakespeare’s early romantic comedies, this play explores the troubled course of love leading to the marriages of King Theseus of Athens and Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and two young aristocratic Athenian couples.
A Passage to India by E. M. Forster (1924). A handful of English people searching for the “real” India get far more than they bargained for—up to and including a terrifying transcendental experience in a very dark cave.
A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oë (1969). The preeminent voice of Japan’s New Left from the 1960s, Oë brings a most un-Japanese rawness and rebellion to his semiautobiographical story of a young intellectual who fathers a brain-damaged baby.
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916). In this semiautobiographical novel, hero Stephen Dedalus rejects the world of his youth—Ireland in its provincialism, nationalism, Catholicism, and sexual guilt—for art.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989). Set in a vividly drawn New Hampshire town in the 1950s and 1960s, this novel’s title character is a tiny boy with a “wrecked voice” and no talent for baseball. In fact, the only ball he hits kills the mother of his best friend, narrator Johnny Wheelwright.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry (1959). Hansberry’s award-winning play was the first by a black woman to be produced on Broadway. It focuses on the Youngers, a struggling African American family in 1950s Chicago, who must decide how to spend the $10,000 insurance money Mama collects from her deceased husband.
A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch (1961). Infused with Freudian theories—especially about male sexuality—and Jungian archetypes, this novel centers on a man who must search his soul and his mind after his wife leaves him for her psychoanalyst.
A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert (1877). Included in the volume Three Tales, this is the story of Félicité, an uneducated and loyal servant who never questions her lot in life. She is sustained by her unquestioning faith and her great love for her nephew and for her mistress’s daughter Virginie.