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 the question 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, in order to ace your AP Literature exam, having a basic familiarity with a broad variety of literary work 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, and vengeance, and violence. It also includes themes of suffering and passion. Along with this, there are intergenerational narratives, unreliable narrator, family dysfunction, and frame narrative. 

Book 3: Novel – The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920) 

Your next book needs to be from 1900-1939. 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, and social class, etc. 

Book 4: Novel – Wide Sargasso by Jean Rhys (1966) 

Choose the next book from the works between 1940-1969. 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 time 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. In fact, 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 time 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 time 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 that 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: 

Novels: 

  • Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1605) 
  • Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749) 
  • Candide by Voltaire (1759) 

Plays: 

  • 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: 

Novels: 

  • 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: 

Novels: 

  • 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) 

Plays: 

  • 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: 

Novels: 

  • 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) 

Plays: 

  • 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 1970-1989 that you can add to your list to ace the AP Literature exam: 

Novels: 

  • 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) 

Plays: 

  • 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: 

Novels: 

  • 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 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 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. 

Ask Questions 

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. 

Make Flashcards 

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 

Final Thoughts 

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 4-5 works for your student choice free-response question. Also, we have added some poetry recommendations that you can include. Good luck!