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Advanced Placement (AP)
A lot of students wonder if there's a specific AP English reading list of books they should be reading to succeed on the AP Literature and Composition exam. While there's not an official College-Board AP reading list, there are books that will be more useful for you to read than others as you prepare for the exam. In this article, I'll break down why you need to read books to prepare, how many you should plan on reading, and what you should read—including poetry.
Why Do You Need to Read Books for the AP Literature Test?
This might seem like kind of an obvious question—you need to read books because it's a literature exam! But actually, there are three specific reasons why you need to read novels, poems, and plays in preparation for the AP Lit Test.
To Increase Your Familiarity With Different Eras and Genres of Literature
Reading a diverse array of novels, poetry and plays from different eras and genres will help you be familiar with the language that appears in the various passages on the AP Lit exam's multiple choice and essay sections. If you read primarily modern works, for example, you may stumble through analyzing a Shakespeare sonnet. So, having a basic familiarity level with the language of a broad variety of literary works will help keep you from floundering in confusion on test day because you're seeing a work unlike anything you've ever read.
To Improve Your Close-Reading Skills
You'll also want to read to improve your close-reading and rhetorical analysis skills. When you do read, really engage with the text: think about what the author's doing to construct the novel/poem/play/etc., what literary techniques and motifs are being deployed, and what major themes are at play. You don't necessarily need to drill down to the same degree on every text, but you should always be thinking, "Why did the author write this piece this way?"
For the Student Choice Free-Response Question
Perhaps the most critical piece in reading to prepare for the AP Lit test, however, is for the student choice free-response question. For the third question on the second exam section, you'll be asked to examine how a specific theme works in one novel or play that you choose. The College Board does provide an example list of works, but you can choose any work you like just so long as it has adequate "literary merit." However, you need to be closely familiar with more than one work so that you can be prepared for whatever theme the College Board throws at you!
Note: Not an effective reading method.
How Many Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?
That depends. In terms of reading to increase your familiarity with literature from different eras and genres and to improve your close-reading skills, the more books you have time to read, the better. You'll want to read them all with an eye for comprehension and basic analysis, but you don't necessarily need to focus equally on every book you read.
For the purposes of the student choice question, however, you'll want to read books more closely, so that you could write a detailed, convincing analytical essay about any of their themes. So you should know the plot, characters, themes, and major literary devices or motifs used inside and out. Since you won't know what theme you'll be asked to write about in advance, you'll need to be prepared to write a student choice question on more than just one book.
Of the books you read for prep both in and out of class, choose four to five books that are thematically diverse to learn especially well in preparation for the exam. You may want to read these more than once, and you certainly want to take detailed notes on everything that's going on in those books to help you remember key points and themes. Discussing them with a friend or mentor who has also read the book will help you generate ideas on what's most interesting or intriguing about the work and how its themes operate in the text.
You may be doing some of these activities anyways for books you are assigned to read for class, and those books might be solid choices if you want to be as efficient as possible. Books you write essays about for school are also great choices to include in your four to five book stable since you will be becoming super-familiar with them for the writing you do in class anyways.
In answer to the question, then, of how many books you need to read for the AP Lit exam: you need to know four to five inside and out, and beyond that, the more the better!
Know the books. Love the books.
What Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam?
The most important thing for the student choice free-response question is that the work you select needs to have "literary merit." What does this mean? In the context of the College Board, this means you should stick with works of literary fiction. So in general, avoid mysteries, fantasies, romance novels, and so on.
If you're looking for ideas, authors and works that have won prestigious prizes like the Pulitzer, Man Booker, the National Book Award, and so on are good choices. Anything you read specifically for your AP literature class is a good choice, too. If you aren't sure if a particular work has the kind of literary merit the College Board is looking for, ask your AP teacher.
When creating your own AP Literature reading list for the student choice free-response, try to pick works that are diverse in author, setting, genre, and theme. This will maximize your ability to comprehensively answer a student choice question about pretty much anything with one of the works you've focused on.
So, I might, for example, choose:
A Midsummer Night's Dream , Shakespeare, play, 1605
Major themes and devices: magic, dreams, transformation, foolishness, man vs. woman, play-within-a-play
Wuthering Heights , Emily Bronte, novel, 1847
Major themes and devices: destructive love, exile, social and economic class, suffering and passion, vengeance and violence, unreliable narrator, frame narrative, family dysfunction, intergenerational narratives.
The Age of Innocence , Edith Wharton, novel, 1920
Major themes and devices: Tradition and duty, personal freedom, hypocrisy, irony, social class, family, "maintaining appearances", honor
Wide Sargasso Sea , Jean Rhys, novel, 1966
Major themes and devices: slavery, race, magic, madness, wildness, civilization vs. chaos, imperialism, gender
As you can see, while there is some thematic overlap in my chosen works, they also cover a broad swathe of themes. They are also all very different in style (although you'll just have to take my word on that one unless you go look at all of them yourself), and they span a range of time periods and genres as well.
However, while there's not necessarily a specific, mandated AP Literature reading list, there are books that come up again and again on the suggestion lists for student choice free-response questions. When a book comes up over and over again on exams, this suggests both that it's thematically rich, so you can use it to answer lots of different kinds of questions, and that the College Board sees a lot of value in the work.
To that end, I've assembled a list, separated by time period, of all the books that have appeared on the suggested works list for student choice free-response questions at least twice since 2003. While you certainly shouldn't be aiming to read all of these books (there's way too many for that!), these are all solid choices for the student choice essay. Other books by authors from this list are also going to be strong choices. It's likely that some of your class reading will overlap with this list, too.
I've divided up the works into chunks by time period. In addition to title, each entry includes the author, whether the work is a novel, play, or something else, and when it was first published or performed. Works are alphabetical by author.
Warning: Not all works pictured included in AP Literature reading list below.
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The Queen of AP Literature surveys her kingdom.
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Don't stay in one reading position for too long, or you'll end up like this guy.
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An Addendum on Poetry
You probably won't be writing about poetry on your student choice essay—most just aren't meaty enough in terms of action and character to merit a full-length essay on the themes when you don't actually have the poem in front of you (a major exception being The Odyssey ). That doesn't mean that you shouldn't be reading poetry, though! You should be reading a wide variety of poets from different eras to get comfortable with all the varieties of poetic language. This will make the poetry analysis essay and the multiple-choice questions about poetry much easier!
See this list of poets compiled from the list given on page 10 of the AP Course and Exam Description for AP Lit, separated out by time period. For those poets who were working during more than one of the time periods sketched out below, I tried to place them in the era in which they were more active.
I've placed an asterisk next to the most notable and important poets in the list; you should aim to read one or two poems by each of the starred poets to get familiar with a broad range of poetic styles and eras.
- Anne Bradstreet
- Geoffrey Chaucer
- George Herbert
- Andrew Marvell
- John Milton
- William Shakespeare*
- William Blake*
- Robert Browning
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge*
- Emily Dickinson*
- Paul Laurence Dunbar
- George Gordon, Lord Byron
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
- John Keats*
- Edgar Allan Poe*
- Alexander Pope*
- Percy Bysshe Shelley*
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson*
- Walt Whitman*
- William Wordsworth*
Early-Mid 20th Century
- W. H. Auden
- Elizabeth Bishop
- H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
- T. S. Eliot*
- Robert Frost*
- Langston Hughes*
- Philip Larkin
- Robert Lowell
- Marianne Moore
- Sylvia Plath*
- Anne Sexton*
- Wallace Stevens
- William Carlos Williams
- William Butler Yeats*
Late 20th Century-Present
- Edward Kamau Brathwaite
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Lucille Clifton
- Billy Collins
- Seamus Heaney
- Garrett Hongo
- Adrienne Rich
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Derek Walcott
- Richard Wilbur
You might rather burn books than read them after the exam, but please refrain.
Why do you need to read books to prepare for AP Lit? For three reasons:
#1 : To become familiar with a variety of literary eras and genres #2 : To work on your close-reading skills #3 : To become closely familiar with four-five works for the purposes of the student choice free-response essay analyzing a theme in a work of your choice.
How many books do you need to read? Well, you definitely need to get very familiar with four-five for essay-writing purposes, and beyond that, the more the better!
Which books should you read? Check out the AP English Literature reading list in this article to see works that have appeared on two or more "suggested works" lists on free-response prompts since 2003.
And don't forget to read some poetry too! See some College Board recommended poets listed in this article.
See my expert guide to the AP Literature test for more exam tips!
The multiple-choice section of the AP Literature exam is a key part of your score. Learn everything you need to know about it in our complete guide to AP Lit multiple-choice questions.
Taking other APs? Check out our expert guides to the AP Chemistry exam , AP US History , AP World History , AP Psychology , and AP Biology .
Looking for other book recommendation lists from PrepScholar? We've compiled lists of the 7 books you must read if you're a pre-med and the 31 books to read before graduating high school .
Ellen has extensive education mentorship experience and is deeply committed to helping students succeed in all areas of life. She received a BA from Harvard in Folklore and Mythology and is currently pursuing graduate studies at Columbia University.
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AP® English Literature
The ultimate ap® english literature reading list.
- The Albert Team
- Last Updated On: March 1, 2022
Introduction: How to Use this Ultimate AP® English Literature Reading List
With such a vast number of novels to choose from, it can be tough to decide which books to put on your AP® English Literature Reading List.
Let us help take out the guesswork! We break down exactly which books you should be studying, and why.
We’ve categorized 40 different literary works. We’ve also included a thoughtful literary analysis on their key elements. With our help, you’ll be able to organize your list of AP® English Literature books to study in a way that works for you and your schedule.
Let’s get started!
What We Review
The Top 10 AP® English Literature Reading List
Everyone plays favorites, and The College Board is no exception. For example, Invisible Man has popped up on 29 of the past 49 AP® Lit exams! Chances are, we’ll see it again this year.
We devoted this portion of the list directly to the top ten works that appeared most frequently on past exams. They should be on the top of your College Board reading list.
Do your best to gain at least some familiarity with this list of books, as it’s likely that one of these will appear somewhere on the test.
1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Ellison’s Invisible Man is a long read but it is definitely worth your time. It expertly tackles race and bigotry, and its effect on the minds of everyone involved. Themes of race, identity, ideology, and stereotypes are explored.
The story follows a marginalized character. He’s not literally invisible, but he’s invisible in a society that is unable and unwilling to recognize the individuality of the black man.
It’s as culturally relevant today as it was when published in 1954. This is the most frequently referenced title on the AP® English Literature book list since 1971.
2. Great Expectations by Charles Dicken
This exciting novel is considered a Victorian “Bildungsroman”, or a coming-of-age story. Pip is a young and poor blacksmith’s son, who suddenly finds himself the owner of a large fortune and is whisked off to London.
One of the most versatile titles on this list, Great Expectations addresses many of the Victorian-era genres including: satire, crime, Silver Fork, Newgate, Gothic, serial fiction, romance, politics, and history.
Dickens gives us a fun plot, but the deeper literary analysis questions on the AP® Exams will focus on his writing, or his prose. Concentrate on instances of his beautiful use of language, and how they affect the novel as a whole.
The character, Estella, gives us the beautiful quote, “Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but – I hope – into a better shape.” This prompts the reader to consider how difficult times allows us to grow as people, and how Estella and Pip have grown from their sufferings.
3. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is one of the most highly regarded pieces on the College Board reading list. A strong example of Gothic Romanticism, it deals heavily with questions of emotion and violence.
The language is easier to decipher than most literary works on the AP® reading list. But, where it really shines is in its considerations of class and gender from a woman’s perspective.
As you read, look out for the poetry in her language and the mastery of composition that Emily Bronte uses in her only published novel.
4. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heart of Darkness is celebrated on many of the AP® English Literature prep message boards as a go-to literary work for the free response section- and with good reason! It’s a relatively short novella containing mystery, psychology, and adventure.
Heart of Darkness is particularly useful for the AP® exam in answering questions about the modern world it was written in. It pointedly deals with imperialist greed, taking place in the 1890s African Congo.
Be sure to keep this in mind- Above all else, Heart of Darkness effectively explores and answers questions about morality. Does doing something wrong for the right reasons make it justified?
Use Albert’s Heart of Darkness course for help understanding tough concepts.
5. King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Lear , referenced 17 times on the exam since 1971, is the most frequently cited work by Shakespeare. King Lear is a brutal play containing themes ranging from familial love and duty, to anger and deception.
This one play provides a wealth of both literary and stylistic elements for you to analyze. This seminal tragedy focuses on King Lear, who foolishly exiles his one loving daughter, giving his kingdom to his two evil ones. As you read, consider how themes of loyalty tie in with compassion and forgiveness.
Albert’s King Lear course is a great resource for understanding the themes and concepts.
6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
The main theme of Crime and Punishment is redeeming oneself through suffering. This is another long but worthwhile read at 545 pages. Crime and Punishment psychologically analyzes young Raskolnikov’s crime to reveal how psychological analysis itself keeps us imprisoned. Intellectualizing events, says Dostoevsky, keeps us imprisoned.
As the name tells us, the two major themes of the story are Crime and Punishment, and their relationship to each other.
Think about questions of sacrifice when studying this piece. Nihilism, the superhero complex, alienation, and poverty are also analyzed at length.
Check out Albert’s Crime and Punishment course.
7. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce
Another bildungsroman (or coming-of-age story), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an examination of how morality and religion can confine an artist.
A Portrait reflects Joyce’s own development as a young boy through adulthood at university. Read A Portrait with an eye out for Joyce’s stream of consciousness style. As Stephen, the main character, develops morally and psychologically, the style of Joyce’s writing adapts and grows, so to speak.
Utilize this title on questions of how style can inform the meaning of the development of characters.
8. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Jane Eyre is a highly cited Victorian Romantic novel. At its core, this is a story of a woman yearning for more than what traditional society would allow her to have.
This well-known novel centers on a strong feminist character, who fights control her own destiny. Bronte’s novel resonates deeply with current feminist movements across the globe. It focuses on themes of love, social class, and gender roles.
Albert has a great Jane Eyre course to help you prepare.
9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Huck Finn is one of the best-known titles on this list among American students. It’s rich and complex, yet the language is accessible.
If you’re asked about the era of Slavery or Reconstruction on the exam, Huck Finn should come to mind. It relentlessly discusses slavery, racism, and the hypocrisy of civilized society.
While reading the story, think of the Mississippi River as a symbol for remaining neutral on issues of race. Use that to inform your reading of Huck Finn.
10. Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Last on this top 10 list is Moby Dick. Universally accepted as a masterful work of fiction, Melville himself described this novel as a meditation on America.
Reading this big novel might not fit into your studying time frame, but you should at least read summaries and key portions. This will help you gain an understanding of Melville’s particular use of symbolism. There are many symbols that may appear on the AP® English Literature exam, including his The Pequod, the color white, and Moby Dick (the whale itself).
In summary, the College Board tends to repeat similar titles on the exam. Studying these top 10 novels should be a priority on your list! They cover a wide range of themes, genres, and cultural time periods to help you effectively answer different varieties of exam questions.
Return to the Table of Contents
Top AP® English Literature Reading List from the Lost Generation
It could be useful to organize your reading list in terms of time period. For instance, take the Lost Generation. Many of the most frequently cited literary works on the AP® exam were written by Lost Generation, or World War I era, authors.
Not only is this an interesting time period that’s receiving more attention as the years draw on, many of the following titles from this era reflect the distinct American voice in literature in a lyrical, interesting, and unique way.
11. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying , is a good example to use if you’re asked about stream of consciousness writing style. Consider how this style develops tone, and how this style aids in character development.
This novel alternates between 15 different character’s points of view. While this sounds intimidating, it’s actually easy to follow. The intimate tone helps us understand each different character.
Additionally, As I Lay Dying is considered part of the foundation of the Southern Renaissance.
12. East of Eden by John Steinbeck
As you read this novel, it’s important to remember it’s a modern retelling of the Book of Genesis (the one with Adam and Eve). If you’re faced with questions on the exam about allegory, it’s a good novel to reference.
East of Eden takes place around the end of WWI in California. It revolves around themes of jealousy, love, the consequences of the absence of love.
13. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Probably one of the best-known Lost Generation literary works, The Great Gatsby is iconic in high school English Literature education. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work has come to represent the Jazz Age in America.
If you’re asked about early-20 th century American society, The Great Gatsby should be a novel you reference..
Check out Albert’s The Great Gatsby course.
14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
Faulkner’s fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury , is another exercise in style. He again uses a stream of consciousness writing to tell a personal story of fear about the corruption of family values.
This is a difficult book to decipher, but, if you can get a handle on how Faulkner utilizes point of view, this piece will be valuable in both the multiple choice and free response exam sections.
15. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Sun Also Rises represents the pinnacle of Hemmingway’s “Iceberg Theory,” also known as “theory of omission.” This style intentionally uses sparse language, to inspire curiosity in the reader.
Hemingway only shows the “tip of the iceberg” in his characterization and descriptions. He leaves it to the reader to formulate a deeper literary analysis (the part of the iceberg that’s underwater).
This novel not only represents Hemingway’s style; it represents the whole Lost Generation itself, through its stories of American expatriates in Europe.
16. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a a stylistic masterwork with unique diction. Hurston juxtaposes Southern Black dialect with the voice of a literary narrator.
If you’re asked about her work, chances are that understanding her style and structure will score you points.
Top AP® English Literature Reading List from WWI to Present
These following literary works appear on the College Board’s most frequently cited list, and they were published after WWI. These titles are useful references to this time period in particular.
17. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
Ceremony is a commentary on how tradition and spirituality are a source of healing.
It takes place from the point of view of a service-age Native American man. He returns from World War II with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. His mentally instability forces him to turn to alcohol to ease his mind. But, eventually, he returns to his spirituality, healing from it.
18. Beloved by Toni Morrison
This work of literature explores Mother-Daughter relationships and the psychological impact that slavery has had on the African-American community in this country. Use Beloved to comment on the importance of identity and also community.
As you read, also consider how the supernatural elements of the story (like ghosts) contrast with its stark realism.
19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple is set in rural Georgia in the 1930s. It’s written in the form of letters from the main character, Celie, to God and to her sister.
It deals with racism and sexism, along with women’s rights. The power of language also plays an important role . As we read further into the story, the language in Celie’s letters changes to reflect her emotional and psychological development.
This development through language reinforces the idea that language, or the ability to express yourself, is essential in developing your sense of who you are.
20. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
Williams draws from a lot of his own personal experiences in The Glass Menagerie. This play has only four main characters, and its overarching theme is the importance of accepting reality. Each character in The Glass Menagerie retreats into their own world to escape realities they can’t cope with.
Look for this selection in free response prompts about symbolism. Laura’s array of delicate glass animals is the single strongest symbol in the play and a strong symbol in general. This Glass Menagerie comes to represent Laura herself and her escape from her own illusory world.
21. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Catch-22 is a first and foremost a satire. It comments on war by reducing it to a bureaucratic concern. Men’s lives and deaths are ultimately controlled by an uncaring, unfeeling government. Use this literary work in discussions of plot and irony.
Consider how devices, like the Catch-22 rule , serve to form the plot of a story.
We have a great Catch-22 course in our Albert library.
22. Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
This play has won both the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the Tony Award for Best Play. Death of a Salesman critiques the American dream and questions its attainability. It grapples with themes like facing reality or giving in to illusion and living in denial.
The main character, Willy, is an aging salesman who struggles to cope with his current life. Much of the play is told through his own flashbacks to earlier in his career.
As you read, consider the effects of flashback on the interpretation of the themes.
Top AP® English Literature Reading List from Shakespeare
Many of William Shakespeare’s works appear on the exam’s most frequently cited list. Even though you’ve probably studied his plays all through high school, it’ll help to refresh your memory on these essential texts.
Othello is an African general in the Venetian army, and the play examines the racial prejudice he faces. It’s a story of love and deception surrounding his insecurity in his personal relationships. Jealousy is an overarching theme throughout the play.
Exam questions on Othello may be concerned with issues of an isolated character and what characteristics contribute to that isolation.
Enhance your understanding and analysis with our Othello Albert course .
24. The Tempest
One of the prominent themes in The Tempest is the artist in relation to his creation. Prospero can be viewed as a kind of artist, in that he controls the fate of every other character. It’s as if Shakespeare inserted himself into the story as Prospero.
The Tempest is widely regarded as Shakespeare’s “Farewell” performance.
25. The Merchant of Venice
The Merchant of Venice is important in preparing for the AP® English Literature exam because it covers a timeless debate about racial and religious supremacy.
This work could appear on either the multiple choice or free response sections, because it explores the concept of dynamic characters using a culturally-charged and well-defined example: Shylock the Moneylender.
Hamlet has been performed more than any other Shakespearean work. For this reason alone, it would be a good idea to familiarize yourself with it.
There are many religious, philosophical, and psychoanalytical undercurrents in Hamlet. All of these will help in free responses and multiple choice questions pertaining to character.
Use Albert’s Hamlet course for extra prep.
“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble!” Macbeth is a cautionary tale warning against evil as a means of power. Themes of ambition, madness, and war all intertwine.
Studying Macbeth is a good opportunity for you to develop your critical analysis skills in tragedy.
Check out Albert’s Macbeth course here .
28. A Midsummer Night’s Dream
This one’s a classic example of a Shakespean comedy, one of his most popular works overall. This play has four separate storylines that all revolve around the marriage of two main characters, Duke Theseus and Queen Hippolyta.
The entire play takes place in the span of one night and is set in both Fairyland and a real-world forest. This play provides great opportunities for an analysis of symbolism. Focus on how enchantments and magic are used throughout. Consider how images of roses and use of love juice symbolize falling in love too quickly.
Top AP® English Literature Reading List from the Classics
The classics are also frequently cited on the AP® English Literature exam. These five classic works could appear on the multiple choice section of the test, as well as on the free response section. Be sure to familiarize yourself with them.
29. Antigone by Sophocles
Antigone addresses issues of authority, faith, and fidelity. Sophocles examines the destructive repercussions on following the law over what you believe is right. He uses the family drama of the character Antigone to highlight this.
Remember to use Albert’s Antigone course for help.
30. Candide by Voltaire
Candide is a unique coming-of-age story and a satirical novella. It asks the question, ‘With so many hardships in the world, what’s the point of trying to be optimistic?’
Keep in mind that Candide is a unique take on the bildungsroman (coming-of-age story), and it’s a relatively short read.
Though Candide was first published in 1759, it is still considered a classic literary work.
31. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles
Oedipus Rex (The King) demonstrates a unique take on the Greek Tragedy. Rather than following the sealed-fate plot that would have made sense to the audience of the time, Sophocles made Oedipus’s choices and faults contribute to his downfall.
You may have heard of Freud’s famous “Oedipus Complex” psychological theory. This play is where it gets its name.
Use Albert’s course on Oedipus Rex for additional help.
32. Medea by Euripides
Medea contains feminist undertones, which was a revolutionary occurrence for the time. Medea is a young woman who wants to take control of her own life in a patriarchal society. This ultimately that drives her to the extreme of committing murder.
Furthermore, the structure of the play is interesting in itself. In every scene, the only actors are Medea and one other person.
33. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Frankenstein represents, arguably, the first science fiction story. But, it does this while remaining true to Shelley’s Gothic and Romantic roots.
The entire novel is a study in how power can corrupt. The power of knowledge allows Victor to animate “The Beast.” The power of his hatred for his creation pushes him toward his own death. The story in itself is a study in power and its dangers.
Frankenstein was first published in 1818. Though not in the same time period as most works on this list, it’s still considered a classic. Remember to use Albert’s Frankenstein course for help.
34. The Odyssey by Homer
Chances are, you’ve already read Odysseus’s sweeping tale of adventure at some point in your high school career. But whether you have or haven’t, this epic poem is worth revisiting before you take your exam.
Taking place in ancient Greece, this story follows the epic hero Odysseus as he tries to return home after the Trojan war. On his way, Odysseus encounters a number of mythical monsters, all preventing him from reaching his wife, Penelope. Consider the use of symbolism in this play, and what each different monster represents in a relationship between a husband and wife.
Check out Albert’s The Odyssey course for additional practice.
Top AP® English Literature Reading List: Other Helpful Texts to Check Out
The list above is full of familiar titles. The list that follows contains titles referenced less often.
If you’re able to include mention of some of these, you may be able to score points for the breadth of your literary knowledge.
35. A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams
Streetcar is considered one of the greatest American plays of all time. Like The Glass Menagerie, Streetcar also deals with the interplay between reality and fantasy. It’s considered at least vaguely autobiographical.
Consider reading this piece along with Menagerie.
36. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
Things Fall Apart chronicles the life of a Nigerian, and it comments on the effect of British colonialism and Christianity. Read this novel if you’re searching for a piece that comes from a different culture. Also, check out the work of Ngugi wa Thiong’o if you’re interested in African perspectives on fiction.
Albert has a practice course to help you with this novel.
37. Obasan by Joy Kogawa
Obason details the Japanese internment camps of World War II, an often under-represented piece of history. The story is told from the point of view of a young child.
Joy Kogawa displays her mastery of imagery in Obasan. This piece is rife with examples of figurative language. Referencing its language and/or its cultural significance can help you earn points on the exam.
38. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee
Albee challenges the traditional notions of success for both individuals and families in this play. This is one more work that comments on reality vs. fantasy.
The title itself is a reference to the “Big Bad Wolf,” and Virginia Woolf herself (though the play isn’t really about her at all.) This dark comedy-drama centers on the struggling marriage of its two, flawed main characters.
39. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor
O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, deals with the crisis of faith in those who’ve seen war. The main character, Hazel Motes, returns home wounded from World World II to an empty house. Raised as the grandson of a preacher, he grew up conflicted with religion. War has turned him into a very vocal atheist.
Consider how O’Connor’s style affects the exploration of faith in Wise Blood.
40. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
If you enjoy dystopian science fiction, look no further! Brave New World takes place on Earth in the future where the entire planet is governed by just one government, the World State. The citizens of Earth are all genetically modified and sorted in a social hierarchy based on intelligence.
The novel has numerous allusions to Shakespeare- the title, Brave New World, is a quote from The Tempest. As you read, consider the impact of these allusions on the meaning of the story as a whole.
Wrapping Things Up: The Ultimate AP® English Literature Reading List
We hope this English literature book list will help you decide which books you want to use to prepare for the AP® exam. In beginning your study, keep these things in mind:
- You don’t need to read every book cover to cover. Familiarize yourself with important plots and characters from especially dense texts (like Moby Dick).
- Understand the AP® exam scoring guidelines, and how different literary works can earn you points in different areas.
- Choose books that interest you! You’ll have an easier time reading and remembering texts that you’re already motivated to read.
By reading and retaining as much information as possible before test day comes, you’re maximizing your odds of receiving the grades you want. Happy reading!
Remember to check out Albert’s How to Study for AP® English Literature for useful tips and skills!
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AP Literature Book List -Top Books for Your Preparation
If you are taking the AP Literature and Composition exam this year and wondering what books to read for it, you are in the right place. Most students who take up this exam have questions about what AP Literature book list they should follow in their mind. After all, the college board does not offer any official reading list for the same.
In such a case, the only thought that crosses your mind is to go through as many Literature books as possible. While this may help, it is impossible to read every material available out there. We understand this and have come to your rescue. In this post today, we will tell you all about the best literature books that you can read, how many of them you need to read, and a lot more.
Let the scrolling begin!
The Need for an AP Literature Book List
Before we tell you about the best literature books that can help you prepare for your AP Literature exam, let us tell you why you need to read all these books. Now, most of you may think that reading from the AP Literature book list is obvious for the exam. After all, it is a literature exam!
While this is correct, too, there are some specific reasons why you should read any novel, play, or poem for your AP Lit Test. Let us have a look at them:
Reason 1: For Increasing Your Familiarity with Different Literature Eras and Genres
The first reason why you need to read multiple Literature books for your AP Lit exam is to understand the language that appears in the exam. When you know about different literature eras and genres, you can differentiate between them easily in the paper.
For instance, if you have read-only primarily modern books for your AP exam, it would be impossible for you to analyze any Shakespearean sonnet. In simple words, to ace your AP Literature exam, having a basic familiarity with a broad variety of literary works is crucial.
Reason 2: For Enhancing Your Analysis and Close-Reading Skills
The second reason why you need to read multiple Literature books for your AP Lit exam is to improve your close-reading and rhetorical analysis skills. Let us explain to you how. When you read a book and engage with its content, what do you decipher from it? As an AP literature student, you need to think about what the author is trying to say.
You need to know what literary techniques he/she is using, what motifs are deployed, and the major theme of the context. For every text you read, you need to make a mental note of this. In simple words, every time you read a novel, play, poem, or any other text, the question you need to find an answer to is why the author wrote that particular piece in that way.
Reason 3: To Solve Free-Response Question Easily
The final reason why you need to read multiple Literature books for your AP Lit exam is to be able to answer free-response questions in the AP Lit exam. It is especially true for the third question in the second exam section. Here, you have to decipher how a theme works in the book mentioned. Further, even for the multiple-choice questions, you need to go through certain books once.
Number of Books You Need to Read for Your AP Literature Exam
Now, when it comes to the AP Literature book list, there is not a specific number of books you need to read. Also, when it comes to the most important literature books that you need to read, it all depends on you. If you want to increase your familiarity with different eras and genres in Literature, it is better to read some important books from each category rather than all the important books from one.
Further, once you manage to familiarize yourself, and develop some close-reading skills, move on to reading more if you have time. After all, the more you read for this exam, the better it is. This is because it will help you learn how to deal with comprehension and basic analysis. That being said, there is no need to focus on a particular number.
Also, you will not have to focus equally on every book you read. Now, the question is how you can decide what the most important literature books are for you. Let us help you figure it out. You can start by adding five books to your AP Literature book list. These books need to be theoretically diverse, and you need to read them more closely.
For the rest of the books, keep a note of the plot, characters, themes, and major literary devices while reading, if possible. In case you do not have enough time, discussing books with someone who has read them already is a great way to find out more about the plot, theme, etc. In simple words, at least read four books inside out. Beyond that, keep in mind that the more books you can read deeply, the better.
AP Literature Book List to Ace the Exam
When it comes to your AP Literature exam, the term “literary merit” is quite crucial. Let us tell you why. For the student-choice free-response question, you need to have “literary merit.” In this context, it means that when choosing your AP Literature book list, you need to choose only works of literary fiction. It implies that you need to stay away from fantasy novels, mysteries, romance books, etc.
Now, how does one choose which work to choose? It is simple! Begin with the work of authors who have won prestigious prizes in Literature. Some of these include prizes like Man Booker, Pulitzer, the National Book Award, etc. Also, focus on the texts you read for your AP classes throughout the year. In case you want to read more books than that and are not sure what books meet the criterion, your AP teacher can help you out.
Further, when it comes to the student choice free-response questions, you need to choose a certain kind of work for your AP Literature book. These works should be of diverse eras and genres. Also, they need to have different settings, themes, plots, etc. Choosing a variety of work will maximize your chances of performing well in the exam.
Now, here is an example of certain books you can choose for your AP reading list:
Book 1: Play – A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare (1605)
This book belongs to the 1500-1799 era and includes various themes and devices that are important. The major ones include play-within-a-play, transformation, foolishness, man vs. woman, magic, and dreams.
Book 2: Novel – Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
Your next book should be a work from 1800-1899. We have chosen Wuthering Heights for it here. The major themes and devices in this novel include destructive love, social and economic class, exile, vengeance, and violence. It also includes themes of suffering and passion. Along with this, there are intergenerational narratives, unreliable narrators, family dysfunction, and frame narrative.
Book 3: Novel – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
Your next book needs to be from 1900-to 1939. For it, we have The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton here. In this book, you can find themes and devices that include personal freedom, hypocrisy, tradition, and duty, irony, family, honor, maintaining appearances, social class, etc.
Book 4: Novel – Wide Sargasso by Jean Rhys (1966)
Choose the next book from the works between 1940-and 1969. We have chosen Wide Sargasso from 1966 here. The major themes and devices of this novel revolve around slavery, madness, wildness, race, magic, imperialism, civilization vs. chaos, and gender.
From the above books, you can see that all the books we have chosen belong to a different period. Along with the periods, these books cover a broad path of themes. Then, all these books are different in their genres, styles, and various other things. That being said, the above books do not fall under any specified AP Literature book list.
You are free to choose any of the literary works. However, there are some recommendations that students can refer to. If you find that a book is referred to a lot, it is important. This book is thematically rich and good enough for the College Board to see a lot of value in it. Preparing for your exam by including this book can help you with different kinds of questions to a great extent.
Further, since we have mentioned only four books above, it does not mean that you read only four of them or add only four books to your reading list. You can choose the number of books you need to be thorough with depending on the time you have. While doing so, make sure that these books cover a variety of periods, genres, plots, and themes.
Keep reading to find out the best books you can add to your AP Literature Reading list to ace the exam. We have divided the books as per the period in which they were written. Have a look:
Ancient Works for Your AP Literature Book List
Here are some of the ancient works you can choose from. While The Odyssey is a poetry book, no other books mentioned here belong to that genre. You can find the list of poets you can read for your AP Lit exam later in the blog.
- Medea: This ancient play was written by Euripides and is dated back to 431 BC.
- The Odyssey: This ancient epic poem by Homer is another book you need to add to your AP Literature book list.
- Antigone: The next ancient play you can read is Antigone by Sophocles which dates back to 441 BC.
- Oedipus Rex: This is another play by Sophocles that you can read. It was written in 429 BC.
Works From 1500-1799 for Your AP Literature Book List
After the ancient works, here are some of the most important literature books from 1500-1799 that you can add to your to-read list for the exam:
- Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605)
- Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749)
- Candide by Voltaire (1759)
- As You Like It by Shakespeare (1623)
- The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare (1605)
- Julius Caesar by Shakespeare (1599)
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare (1605)
Works From 1800-1899 for Your AP Literature Book List
Some of the most important literature books from 1800-1899 that you can read for the AP Literature exam include:
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
- Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859)
- Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851)
- Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (1847)
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (1861)
- The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James (1881)
Play: A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen (1879)
Works From 1900-1939 for Your AP Literature Book List
Now, here are some important literature books from 1900-1939 that you can read:
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
- A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916)
- My Antonia by Willa Cather (1918)
- As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930)
- Light in August by William Faulkner (1932)
- A Passage to India by E.M. Forster (1924)
- The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov (1904)
- Murder in the Cathedral by T.S. Eliot (1935)
- The Little Foxes by Lillian Hellman (1939)
- Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw (1905)
Works From 1940-1969 for Your AP Literature Book List
The most important literature books from 1940-1969 that you can read for the AP Literature exam include:
- The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
- Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1952)
- Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (1962)
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960)
- Another Country by James Baldwin (1962)
- Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954)
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles (1959)
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee (1962)
- Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett (1953)
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard (1966)
- Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (1949)
Memoir: Black Boy by Richard Wright (1945)
Works From 1970-1989 for Your AP Literature Book List
Here are some works from 1970-to 1989 that you can add to your list to ace the AP Literature exam:
- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)
- The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison (1970)
- Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977)
- Jasmine by Bharati Mukherjee (1989)
- Sula by Toni Morrison (1973)
- Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien (1978)
- Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (1979)
- M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang (1988)
- Equus by Peter Shaffer (1973)
- “Master Harold” . . . and the boys by Athol Fugard (1982)
- The Piano Lesson by August Wilson (1987)
Memoir: The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston (1976)
Works From 1990-Present for Your AP Literature Book List
Lastly, here are some of the most important literature books from 1990 to the present time that you can read for your AP Literature exam:
- A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (2007)
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997)
- A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley (1991)
- The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (2003)
- The Namesake by Jumpa Lahiri (2004)
- Native Speaker by Chang Rae-Lee (1995)
- The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan (2001)
How to Make Use of the AP ® Lit Reading List?
With so many novels to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which books to include on your AP® English Literature Reading List.
We’ve classified 40 different literary works. We’ve also included a thoughtful literary analysis of their key elements. With our assistance, you will be able to organize your list of AP® English Literature books for study in a way that works for you and your schedule.
How to Study Literature Works for the AP Lit Exam?
The AP Literature exam requires a lot of reading. Here is how you can do so to ace the exam:
Try to Complete All Your Work In Time
Chances are, your AP teacher will assign you a list of AP books, and you have to get these done by the first day you walk into your class. Make sure you go through these summer readings for a better start to the year.
Get Acquainted with The Western Canon
This is a body of high-culture Literature, philosophy, music, and related works. These artworks are highly valued in the West. Make sure to familiarize yourself with some of them to understand the history and development of the English tradition.
Know-How to Analyze Any Text
For a major portion of your AP Literature readings, you will have to analyze texts. You must know how to examine these as a whole and even as a single part of the entire book. Further, it is crucial to know how to analyze the setting, characters, plot, and other similar characteristics to understand any Literature work better.
Make Sure to Read Daily
As a Literature student, you have to read a lot and cannot finish all your readings in a week. Therefore, you need to be accustomed to reading daily. Every day, take out some time of your day to only read Literature. Also, when you read anything, do not just read. Try to understand what the author wants to say there.
Like all other subjects, it is okay to be lost at a point in this one too. Your teacher is there to help with the same. Therefore, never refrain from asking questions to understand concepts better. Be it the meaning of any word or the art of weaving evidence into your argument, do not be afraid to ask it out.
The next thing you can do to make your readings easier is to get accustomed to different devices, terms, concepts, works, and related stuff in the subject. The best way to do so is with the help of flashcards. You can either make them the traditional way or look for some online.
Try Our Various Study Styles
Be it Literature or any other subject, everyone has specific study preferences for it. For instance, some may like reading the Literature work while others may grasp it better when they listen to it. Whatever is your study style, find out about it and stick to it for progress.
Poetry Work for Your AP Literature Book List
Some of you may not be attempting poetry for the student choice free-response questions. However, for those who will, it is crucial to learn about various poets and their work. You must know about a wide variety of poets that too from various eras if you are thinking about attempting one.
Once you get accustomed to a variety of poetic languages, you can readily analyze any piece of poetry and even solve multiple-choice questions readily. Below, you can find a list of different poets from each era you must read about. Have a look:
Poetry Works from 14th-17th Centuries for Your AP Literature Book List
- Geoffrey Chaucer
- George Herbert
- William Shakespeare
- Anne Bradstreet
- John Donne
- Ben Jonson
- John Milton
- Andrew Marvell
Poetry Works from 18th-19th Centuries for Your AP Literature Book List
- Robert Browning
- Emily Dickinson
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
- John Keats
- Alexander Pope
- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
- William Wordsworth
- William Blake
- Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- Paul Laurence Dunbar
- George Gordon, Lord Byron
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Walt Whitman
Poetry Works from Early-Mid 20th Century for Your AP Literature Book List
- Elizabeth Bishop
- T. S. Eliot
- Philip Larkin
- Marianne Moore
- Anne Sexton
- Wallace Stevens
- William Carlos Williams
- W. H. Auden
- H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
- Robert Frost
- Langston Hughes
- Robert Lowell
- Sylvia Plath
- William Butler Yeats
Poetry Works from Late 20th Century-Present for Your AP Literature Book List
- Edward Kamau Brathwaite
- Lorna Dee Cervantes
- Lucille Clifton
- Rita Dove
- Joy Harjo
- Garrett Hongo
- Adrienne Rich
- Derek Walcott
- Gwendolyn Brooks
- Billy Collins
- Seamus Heaney
- Leslie Marmon Silko
- Cathy Song
- Richard Wilbur
So, these are the books you can add to your AP Literature book list to ace your exam. Choosing among these books correctly is sure to help you become familiar with a variety of literary eras and genres. You will even be able to enhance your close-reading skills and choose the best 4-to 5 works for your student choice free-response question. Also, we have added some poetry recommendations that you can include. Good luck!
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What Books Do You Need to Read for the AP Exam? · A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare, play, 1605. Major themes and devices: magic, dreams
The Top 10 AP® English Literature Reading List · 1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison · 2. Great Expectations by Charles Dicken · 3. Wuthering Heights
Adapted from an original list by Norma J. Wilkerson. Works referred to on the AP Literature exams since 1971 (specific years in parentheses).
Updated from an original list by Norma J. Wilkerson. Works referred to on the AP Literature exams since 1971 (specific years in parentheses). Please note that
Ap Lit Books ; The Great Gatsby (Paperback) · F. Scott Fitzgerald ; Hamlet (Paperback) · William Shakespeare ; Frankenstein: The 1818 Text (Paperback) · Mary
During your AP Literature and Composition course, discussions and writing assignments will be based on the literary works listed under Required Books.
According to the College Board Advanced Placement program: "The AP English course in. Literature and Composition should engage students in the careful reading
AP Literature Book List to Ace the Exam · Book 1: Play – A Midsummer Night's Dream by Shakespeare (1605) · Book 2: Novel – Wuthering Heights by
Great Expectations-Abridged Edition. Charles Dickens. Fiction. Lexile: 1200 ; The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald, F. Scott. Fiction. Lexile: 1010 ; Hamlet. Shakespeare
With a massive list of over 400 books appearing on the AP test at one time or another, it can be challenging to choose which novels to focus on during test