Most Referenced Books On Ap Lit Exam Essays

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 a designated College-Board AP reading list per se, 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-fivebooks 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-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.

 

Ancient Works

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Medea

Euripides

play

431 BC

The Odyssey

Homer

epic poem

(no date)

Antigone

Sophocles

play

441 BC

Oedipus Rex

Sophocles

play

429 BC

1500-1799

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Don Quixote

Miguel de Cervantes

novel

1605

Tom Jones

Henry Fielding

novel

1749

As You Like It

Shakespeare

play

1623

Julius Caesar

Shakespeare

play

1599

King Lear

Shakespeare

play

1606

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Shakespeare

play

1605

The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare

play

1605

Othello

Shakespeare

play

1604

The Tempest

Shakespeare

play

1611

Candide

Voltaire

novel

1759

1800-1899

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Emma

Jane Austen

novel

1815

Mansfield Park

Jane Austen

novel

1814

Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

novel

1813

Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte

novel

1847

Wuthering Heights

Emily Bronte

novel

1847

The Awakening

Kate Chopin

novel

1899

The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane

novel

1895

Bleak House

Charles Dickens

novel

1853

David Copperfield

Charles Dickens

novel

1850

Great Expectations

Charles Dickens

novel

1861

Oliver Twist

Charles Dickens

novel

1837

A Tale of Two Cities

Charles Dickens

novel

1859

Crime and Punishment

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

novel

1866

Madame Bovary

Gustave Flaubert

novel

1856

Jude the Obscure

Thomas Hardy

novel

1895

The Mayor of Casterbridge

Thomas Hardy

novel

1886

Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Thomas Hardy

novel

1891

The Scarlet Letter

Nathaniel Hawthorne

novel

1850

A Doll’s House

Henrik Ibsen

play

1879  

The American

Henry James

novel

1877

The Portrait of a Lady

Henry James

novel

1881

Moby-Dick

Herman Melville

novel

1851

Frankenstein

Mary Shelley

novel

1818

Anna Karenina

Leo Tolstoy

novel

1877

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

novel

1885

The Queen of AP Literature surveys her kingdom.

 

1900-1939

Title

Author

Genre

Date

My Ántonia

Willa Cather

novel

1918

The Cherry Orchard

Anton Chekhov

play

1904

Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad

novel

1902

Sister Carrie

Theodore Dreiser

novel

1900

Murder in the Cathedral

T.S. Eliot

play

1935

Absalom, Absalom!

William Faulkner

novel

1936

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner

novel

1930

Light in August

William Faulkner

novel

1932

The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner

novel

1929

The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald

novel

1925

A Passage to India

E.M. Forster

novel

1924

The Little Foxes

Lillian Hellman

play

1939

Their Eyes Were Watching God

Zora Neale Hurston

novel

1937

Brave New World

Aldous Huxley

novel

1931

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

James Joyce

novel

1916

Billy Budd

Herman Melville

novel

1924

Major Barbara

George Bernard Shaw

play

1905

The Grapes of Wrath

John Steinbeck

novel

1939

The Age of Innocence

Edith Wharton

novel

1920

Ethan Frome

Edith Wharton

novel

1911

The House of Mirth

Edith Wharton

novel

1905

Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

novel

1925

1940-1969

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Things Fall Apart

Chinua Achebe

novel

1958

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Edward Albee

play

1962

Another Country

James Baldwin

novel

1962

Waiting for Godot

Samuel Beckett

play

1953

The Plague

Albert Camus

novel

1947

Invisible Man

Ralph Ellison

novel

1952

Lord of the Flies

William Golding

novel

1954

A Raisin in the Sun

Lorraine Hansberry

play

1959

Catch-22

Joseph Heller

novel

1961

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’ s Nest

Ken Kesey

novel

1962 

A Separate Peace

John Knowles

novel

1959

To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee

novel

1960

The Crucible

Arthur Miller

play

1953

Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller

play

1949

House Made of Dawn

N. Scott Momaday

novel

1968

Wise Blood

Flannery O’Connor

novel

1952

1984

George Orwell

novel

1949

Cry, the Beloved Country

Alan Paton

novel

1948

All the King’s Men

Robert Penn Warren

novel

1946

The Chosen

Chaim Potok

novel

1967

Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

novel

1966

The Catcher in the Rye

JD Salinger

novel

1951

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Tom Stoppard

play

1966

Cat’s Cradle

Kurt Vonnegut

novel

1963 

The Glass Menagerie

Tennessee Williams

play

1945

A Streetcar Named Desire

Tennessee Williams

play

1947

Black Boy

Richard Wright

memoir

1945

Native Son

Richard Wright

novel

1940

 


Don't get trapped in a literature vortex!

 

1970-1989

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Bless Me, Ultima

Rudolfo Anaya

novel

1972

The House on Mango Street

Sandra Cisneros

novel

1984

“Master Harold” . . . and the boys

Athol Fugard

play

1982

M. Butterfly

David Henry Hwang

play

1988

A Prayer for Owen Meany

John Irving

novel

1989

The Woman Warrior

Maxine Hong Kingston

memoir

1976

Obasan

Joy Kogawa

novel

1981

Beloved

Toni Morrison

novel

1987 

The Bluest Eye

Toni Morrison

novel

1970

Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

novel

1977 

Sula

Toni Morrison

novel

1973

Jasmine

Bharati Mukherjee

novel

1989

The Women of Brewster Place

Gloria Naylor

novel

1982

Going After Cacciato

Tim O’Brien

novel

1978

Equus

Peter Shaffer

play

1973

Ceremony

Leslie Marmon Silko

novel

1977

Sophie’s Choice

William Styron

novel

1979

The Color Purple

Alice Walker

novel

1982

Fences

August Wilson

play

1983

The Piano Lesson

August Wilson

play

1987

1990-Present 

Title

Author

Genre

Date

Reservation Blues

Sherman Alexie

novel

1995

The Blind Assassin

Margaret Atwood

novel

2000

Oryx and Crake

Margaret Atwood

novel

2003

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

Kim Edwards

novel

2005

Cold Mountain

Charles Frazier

novel

1997

Snow Falling on Cedars

David Guterson

novel

1994

The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2003

A Thousand Splendid Suns

Khaled Hosseini

novel

2007

Never Let Me Go

Kazuo Ishiguro

novel

2005

The Poisonwood Bible

Barbara Kingsolver

novel

1998

The Namesake

Jumpa Lahiri

novel

2004

All the Pretty Horses

Cormac McCarthy

novel

1992

Atonement

Ian McEwan

novel

2001

Native Speaker

Chang Rae-Lee

novel

1995

The God of Small Things

Arundhati Roy

novel

1997

A Thousand Acres

Jane Smiley

novel

1991

The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan

novel

2001

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski

novel

2008

 

Don't stay in one reading position for too long, or you'll end up like this guy.

 

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 14 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.


14th-17th Centuries

  1. Anne Bradstreet
  2. Geoffrey Chaucer
  3. John Donne
  4. George Herbert
  5. Ben Jonson
  6. Andrew Marvell
  7. John Milton
  8. William Shakespeare*


18th-19th Centuries

  1. William Blake*
  2. Robert Browning
  3. Samuel Taylor Coleridge*
  4. Emily Dickinson*
  5. Paul Laurence Dunbar
  6. George Gordon, Lord Byron
  7. Gerard Manley Hopkins
  8. John Keats*
  9. Edgar Allan Poe*
  10. Alexander Pope*
  11. Percy Bysshe Shelley*
  12. Alfred, Lord Tennyson*
  13. Walt Whitman*
  14. William Wordsworth*

 

Early-Mid 20th Century

  1. W. H. Auden
  2. Elizabeth Bishop
  3. H. D. (Hilda Doolittle)
  4. T. S. Eliot*
  5. Robert Frost*
  6. Langston Hughes*
  7. Philip Larkin
  8. Robert Lowell
  9. Marianne Moore
  10. Sylvia Plath*
  11. Anne Sexton*
  12. Wallace Stevens
  13. William Carlos Williams
  14. William Butler Yeats*

 

Late 20th Century-Present

  1. Edward Kamau Brathwaite
  2. Gwendolyn Brooks
  3. Lorna Dee Cervantes
  4. Lucille Clifton
  5. Billy Collins
  6. Rita Dove
  7. Joy Harjo
  8. Seamus Heaney
  9. Garrett Hongo
  10. Adrienne Rich
  11. Leslie Marmon Silko
  12. Cathy Song
  13. Derek Walcott
  14. Richard Wilbur

 

You might rather burn books than read them after the exam, but please refrain.

 

Key Takeaways

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.

 

What's Next?

See my expert guide to the AP Literature test for more exam tips!

Taking other APs? Check out our expert guides to the AP Chemistry exam, AP US History, AP World History, AP Psychology, and AP Biology. 

 

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points? We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download it for free now:

 

Wondering which literary works to study to prepare for the AP English Literature exam?

It can be overwhelming to choose. So let me help.

I’ve categorized 35 different literary works to help you easily digest the key elements. Using my commentary as help, you’ll be able to prepare your own AP English Literature reading list to better prepare for a 5.

 

The Top 10 AP English Literature Reading List

You can’t argue with hard statistics. The College Board has kept track of the most frequently cited the AP English Literature works from 1971 through 2014. This portion of the list is devoted directly to these ten works. It could be of great importance that you at the very least gain some familiarity with these titles, as the likelihood that one of these will appear somewhere on the test is pretty high.

1. Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Ellison’s Invisible Man is a long read but it is definitely worth the time spent due to the way it tackles race and bigotry and its effect on the minds of the parties involved in issues of race. Invisible Man covers race, identity, ideology, and stereotypes. Further, it tells the story of a marginalized character who eventually overcomes alienation, invisibility, and defies a society that is unable and unwilling to recognize the individuality of the black man. This is the most frequently referenced title on the AP English Literature reading list at 26 citations since 1971.

2. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is one of the most widely regarded pieces on the AP English Literature reading list. WH is a good example of Gothic Romanticism that deals heavily with questions of emotion and violence. It’s particularly accessible and discusses class and gender comfortably from the perspective of a woman. This is one of the most frequently cited literary works on the AP Literature exam. It has been included in some form or fashion on 20 different years’ tests since 1971.

I personally recommend analyzing this piece while looking out for the poetry and mastery of composition that Emily Bronte wields in her only published novel. Wuthering Heights is long but meaningful read.

3. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Great Expectations is another Victorian novel that is very frequently included on the AP Literature exam. Since 1971, it has been cited 18 times. It is considered a Victorian Bildungsroman, German for “Novel of Formation,” simply described as a coming-of-age story.

Great Expectations is probably one of the most versatile titles on this list because it addresses many of the Victorian-era genres of the novel, including satire, crime, Silver Fork, Newgate, Gothic, serial fiction, romance, politics, and history. Read Dickens’ Great Expectations as if you need to mark a trail to get back to the beginning, your starting point. With Dickens, it’s about the particular points he mentions. Those points throughout the story inform your reading of Great Expectations, not the purpose of the novel itself.

Make sure you don’t focus on plot with any Dickens piece. Plots are his weakest point. Concentrate on instances of his beautiful use of language.

4. King Lear by William Shakespeare

King Lear, referenced 17 times 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. It’s a play that provides you with many different elements of story to discuss as well as elements of style. The actual story is too complicated to briefly summarize, so trust the numbers and read this play before taking the test.

5. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

The main theme of Crime and Punishment is redemption via suffering. This is another long but worthwhile read at 545 pages. The purpose of Crime and Punishment is to provide a psychological analysis of the young Raskolnikov’s crime to reveal how this psychological analysis itself keeps us imprisoned. Intellectualizing events, says Dostoevsky, keeps us imprisoned.

As the name tells us, Crime and Punishment and their relationship to each other are major themes in the story. Think about questions of sacrifice when reading studying this piece. Nihilism, the superhero complex, alienation, and poverty are also analyzed at length.

6. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Heart of Darkness is lauded on many of the AP English Literature prep message boards as a go-to literary work for the free response section with good reason. It’s a relatively short novella and an interesting read involving mystery, psychology, and adventure. Heart of Darkness is particularly useful in questions about the modern world in that it was somewhat prophetically written. It deals with the question of imperialist greed particularly pointedly.

Above all else, Heart of Darkness effectively explores and answers questions about morality and how the ambiguity of right and wrong can justify actions. Keep this in mind.

7. 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. Not only is it well known, it’s more relevant today due to the recent push for social equity for women.

8. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Huck Finn is probably one of the best-known titles on this list among American students and with good reason. It’s rich and complex, yet decipherable by students. If, perhaps, you’re asked about the era of Slavery or Reconstruction, Huck Finn should really come to mind. It relentlessly discusses slavery and racism and the hypocrisy of civilized society. Consider the Mississippi River a symbol for remaining in the middle of the road on issues of race and use that to inform your reading of Huck Finn.

9. Moby Dick by Herman Melville

Moby Dick is universally accepted as an expansive, masterful work of fiction. However, Melville himself described this novel as a meditation on America. Read key portions of this text at least and gain an understanding of Melville’s particular use of symbolism. There are many pertinent symbols that may appear on the AP English Literature exam.

10. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce

Another bildungsroman, coming-of-age story, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man is an examination of how morality and religion can confine the artist. A Portrait reflects Joyce’s own development as a young boy through adulthood at university. Read A Portrait with an eye 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.

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The Lost Generation

It could be of use to you to compartmentalize your reading list in terms of time period. For instance, take the Lost Generation. Many of the most frequently cited literary works from 1971 to 2014 were written by Lost Generation, World War I era, authors. Not only is this an interesting time period that seems to be 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. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God is a good example of a stylistic masterwork, which you can benefit from knowing. Hurston juxtaposes the Southern Black dialect with the voice of a literary narrator. If you’re asked about her work, the chances are that an understanding of her style and structure will score you points.

12. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Probably one of the best-known Lost Generation literary works, The Great Gatsby has become iconic in high school English Literature education. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work has come to represent the Jazz Age in America. If you were asked about early-20th century American society, The Great Gatsby would be a kind of touchstone work to analyze.

13. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, his fifth novel, would be a good example for you to use if asked about stream of consciousness, how that style develops tone, and how that style aids in character development. It’s written in 59 chapters from 15 points of view that develop each character in manageable chunks, which is made much more easily understood by the intimate tone of stream of consciousness writing. Furthermore, it’s viewed as part of the foundation of the Southern Renaissance.

14. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

Faulkner’s fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, is another exercise in style. He used stream of consciousness writing once more to tell a personal story of fear about the corruption of family values. The Sound and the Fury provides, most of all, a pathway to impress a reader. This is a difficult book to decipher, but, if you can get a handle on how Faulkner utilizes point of view within it, this piece can be of great value to you in both the multiple choice and free response sections of the exam.

15. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises represents the pinnacle, in my opinion, of the Iceberg Theory. That is to say that Hemingway’s style of characterization and description, likely considered sparse by most, actually inspired a curiosity in readers that could only have been intentional.

This novel is not only representative of Hemingway’s style; it is representative of the Lost Generation in  itself, insofar as it chronicles fictionalized stories of American expatriates in Europe.

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Literature WWI – Present

The following literary works appear on the College Board’s most frequently cited list and were published after WWI. These titles can be useful references to this time period in particular.

16. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Catch-22 comments on war by reducing it to a bureaucratic concern. Use this literary work in discussions of plot and how devices, like the Catch-22 rule which constitutes the reason that Heller wrote this piece, serve to form the plot of a story.

17. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

Ceremony is a commentary on how tradition and spirituality can serve as a source of healing. It takes place from the point of view of a service-age Native American man who returns from World War II with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. He is mentally unstable and turns to alcohol to ease his mind, but, eventually, he returns to his spirituality, healing from it.

18. Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved 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.

19. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple is an epistolary novel set in rural Georgia in the 1930s. It deals with racism and sexism, along with women’s rights. The power of language also plays an important role in The Color Purple. Walker writes Celie’s letters in a way that reflects her progression in emotional and psychological development. This development through language reinforces the idea that access to language, the ability to express one’s self, is integral in the development of a sense of self.

20. The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams

Williams used much of his own personal experience in writing The Glass Menagerie. This is a four-character play with a main theme of accepting reality. Each character in The Glass Menagerie retreats into their own world to escape the realities to which they cannot relate. 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 her own illusory world.

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Shakespeare

Many of William Shakespeare’s works appear on the most frequently cited list. Surely you’ve studied Shakespeare if you’re preparing to take the AP English Literature exam now, but it couldn’t hurt to refresh your memory of the following works by the Bard of Avon.

21. Othello

Othello is a story of love and deception built upon a soldier’s insecurity with his life outside of soldiering. Questions and prompts about Othello may be concerned with issues of an isolated character and characteristics that contribute to that isolation.

22. 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.

23. The Merchant of Venice

The Merchant of Venice is important to your preparation 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.

24. Hamlet

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, interpretation of which could aid in free responses and multiple choice questions pertaining to character.

25. Macbeth

Macbeth is somewhat of a cautionary tale warning against the allure of evil as a means of power. Studying Macbeth is a good opportunity for you to develop your critical analysis skills in tragedy.

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The Classics

The classical works also enjoy frequent citations on the AP Literature exam. These 5 classic works could appear on the multiple choice section of the test as well as on the free response section.

26. Antigone by Sophocles

Antigone addresses issues of authority, faith, and fidelity. Sophocles examines how adherence to the laws of the state over those of a personal belief system can result in the destruction of the state. He uses the family drama of the character Antigone to highlight this.

27. *Candide by Voltaire

Understand Candide to be a unique coming-of-age story. It’s a satirical novella that questions the efficacy or even the very purpose of remaining optimistic in the face of the great hardships of the world. Keep in mind that Candide is a unique take on the bildungsroman, and it’s a relatively short read.

28. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles

Oedipus Rex (The King) demonstrates a unique take on the Greek Tragedy. Rather than utilizing the sealed fate-type of arrangement that would have made sense to the audience of the time, Sophocles made Oedipus’ faults contribute to his downfall.

29. Medea by Euripides

Medea contains some feminist undertones, a revolutionary occurrence for the time. Medea wants to take control of her own life in a patriarchal society, a task that drives her to the extreme of committing murder. Furthermore, the structure of the play as it was actually performed could be of interest to you. In every scene, the only actors are Medea and someone else.

30. **Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Frankenstein represents, arguably, the first science fiction story but does so while remaining true to Shelley’s Gothic and Romantic roots. A circumstantial theme within Frankenstein that could be need-to-know information for you is that 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.
*Candide was first published in 1759. While it does not necessary belong in a group with the ancient plays, it is still considered a classic literary work.

**Frankenstein was first published in 1818. Though it doesn’t match the time period of the other works on this list, it still could be considered a literary classic to which many other literary works can be considered intertextually related, like the other selections in this section.

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Other Helpful Texts

The list above is full of familiar titles. If you can use a title from the following list of works not referenced as often yet still literary, you may be able to score points for the breadth of your literary knowledge.

31. 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 and is considered at least vaguely autobiographical. Consider reading this piece along with Menagerie.

32. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart chronicles the life of a Nigerian and 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.

33. Obasan by Joy Kogawa

Joy Kogawa displays her mastery of the imagery of serenity in Obasan. This piece is rife with examples of figurative language.

34. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee

Albee challenges the prevailing notions of success for both individuals and families in this play. This is one more work that comments on reality vs. fantasy.

35. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

O’Connor’s first novel, Wise Blood, deals with the crisis of faith that can follow the return of those who have seen war. Consider how O’Connor’s style affects the exploration of faith in Wise Blood.

Conclusion

Now that you have such a list of possibilities, which ones will you choose to study? The majority of these texts will serve you well in preparing for the AP English Literature exam, so you can’t really go wrong.

The bottom line is that by reading and retaining as much information as possible before test day comes, you’re maximizing your odds of receiving the grades you want. I hope the list above helps you figure out which texts will help you maximize your scores. Happy reading!

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