The AP English Language curriculum lists several literary works that will assist you in answering free response questions during the exam as well as some of the multiple choice questions. By being well-read you can get a leg up on the other students, thus vastly improving your score. So get reading! Below is a list of the ultimate AP English Language reading list and a quick synopsis for each work.
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand is a novel depicting Howard Roark and his journey through his struggling life. Ayn Rand focuses on her objectivist manifesto as she tells the story of Roark and simultaneously persuades her audience that the self will triumph over all else. Rand utilizes amazing rhetorical prowess in The Fountainhead, making this novel a great way to introduce students to analyzing rhetorical methods and devices. This is important for the second free response question on the AP English exam, because that essay question will ask the student to pick out how the author uses rhetoric. If you practice with The Fountainhead, then finding rhetorical devices in a work will become much easier.
The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story of a young woman who had an affair with a priest. It is a story of sin, guilt, mystery, and adultery as Hester Prynne makes her way through turmoil when she wore a red letter ‘A’ for adultery. This novel was famous for its use of symbolism, making The Scarlet Letter a fantastic tool for looking beyond the surface of a text. This will serve the student well as he or she analyzes various texts during the multiple choice and the free response section of the AP English Language exam.
The multiple choice exam dictates that the student must be able to look deeply into a passage and see beyond the words. The questions are made to utilize critical thinking skills that one needs to pick apart The Scarlet Letter.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare is a play that follows Hamlet, the son of the newly murdered king of Denmark. Hamlet was sent into a spiraling depression after his mother remarries and he is unable to claim the throne. Therefore, Hamlet plots to kill Claudius, the new king. He eventually did so after his hamartia takes over and all is already lost. At the end, almost the entire cast was slain.
Hamlet is important to the AP English Language exam, because Shakespeare utilizes important figurative language, form, and other important writing techniques in order to convey his messages within the play. It is important to explore Hamlet as well because of the different format. Because some students have difficulty understanding Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter with an interpreter, reading this play will help the student. Hamlet passages often make an appearance in the multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam. Having a working knowledge of the play will put the student at an advantage over others in the multiple choice section.
The Grapes of Wrath
This next novel is a text that utilizes an important rhetorical device, pathos. Pathos is the appeal to the audience’s emotions, and The Grapes of Wrath shows the reader how to captivate an audience with their own emotions. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck took place during the Great Depression. Here, we get to follow a group of people that have been terribly affected by the lack of food and work. The various Americans that are focused on show a different perspective on how horrible the Great Depression was, and the fall and the triumph of the human spirit. It is emotionally captivating and persuading, which is a wonderful model to look at when thinking about how to craft a free response essay.
The Kite Runner
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a narrative that depicts two boys, Hassan and Amir, as they grew up in the Middle East. Discrimination was covered in this novel as well as rape culture, victim blaming, and how to deal with trauma in a negative and positive way.
This novel reveals a different perspective than the Eurocentric views that the western world is used to. Its cultural perspective brings into light a point that is essential in the AP Language exams, which is that everyone is going to have a different way of looking at your argument. Make it as accessible as possible. Also, The Kite Runner is a great example of using pathos, a tool that is essential to the essays on the AP English Language exam. This novel also utilizes narrative as a method of revealing a concept to the readers. By reading The Kite Runner the student learns to see the underlying concepts, which is a great skill to have for the multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam.
A Thousand Splendid Suns
A Thousand Splendid Suns is the companion piece to The Kite Runner. Written by Khaled Hosseini as well, this text follows three women through their experiences growing up in the Middle East. The exploration of point of view is useful to a student, because the passages given in the multiple choice section may be nebulous regarding point of view. Being able to figure out who is speaking and why the author is having him or her speak is valuable for the exam. The marginalization of the woman’s experience is highlighted here and the writing is very concise and to the point. Because of the concise language, A Thousand Splendid Suns is a great example for how to eliminate redundancy in the student’s free response question essays.
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The Life of Pi
Another great skill to have going into the AP English Language exam is to be able to think outside of the box. The Life of Pi by Yann Martel is a novel that focuses on Pi, an Indian boy that is shipwrecked with wild animals. These wild animals, whether they are real or not, tormented Pi and took him on a journey through spiritual awakening. The reader was told at the end of the novel that there are two stories and he or she had to choose which the real narrative was. Seeing outside of the confines of the story will allow the student to see deeper aspects of other texts. This will become useful when reading the sources for the synthesis essay or the multiple choice passages that need thorough analysis.
The AP English Language exam emphasizes non-fiction works over the fiction, making the following book even more important. The Overachievers is a non-fiction work by Alexandra Robbins that follows eight high schoolers believed to be pressured into the highest GPA and the “best” college. She puts standardized testing in a very negative light as she reports on her findings. This book is important to the AP English Language exam, because this is a non-fiction source, which embodies much of what the sources will be like for the synthesis essay in the free response section of the exam.
As I Lay Dying
Sometimes it is the journey that matters. In Faulkner’s novel As I Lay Dying, a journey is used as to support the greater whole of the novel and the argument that Faulkner makes. As I Lay Dying is a southern gothic novel that embodies the dysfunctional family. The family treks forty miles toward the city of Jefferson with their dead mother in a coffin. This was her last wish. Through calamities the family goes to the city and finally buries her decaying corpse.
This novel can be directly related to the free response questions in the AP English Language exam, because every supporting detail makes a difference. Every character in As I Lay Dying contributed to Faulkner’s overall argument.
In this non-fiction text the author looks into a different topic in every chapter ranging from cheating teachers to legalizing abortion to lowering poverty. He does this by using many sources and bringing other data. This is important to the AP English Language exam, because the exam’s free response questions will demand that you use a certain amount of the sources provided to craft your argument. Without this ability you will not score well.
A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Soldier Boy
Have you ever felt studying for AP exams is too hard? Well, your troubles will definitely be put into perspective with this next novel. A Long Way Gone was the memoir of a young boy, Beah, who grew up in Sierra Leone amidst the violence. He was taken into an army at a young age and became a child soldier. After becoming addicted to drugs, Beah was rehabilitated by UNICEF.
This non-fiction book is another great addition to your AP English Language repertoire, because learning how to analyze a memoir and pick out the important parts of the argument will assist you in answering multiple choice questions and writing your essay.
How Starbucks Saved My Life
How Starbucks Saved My Life is another memoir. This one is about an executive who loses his job and has to work at Starbucks in order to make a living. The main character learns from his supervisor about minorities and real hard work. This non-fiction work utilizes time and facts in order to get across a message. These concrete details and support allows the author to proficiently persuade the audience. The credibility that the author creates for himself is a tool that the student will need to create for him or herself. The student can do this by maintaining clear and persuasive language as How Starbucks Saved My Life does.
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Profiles in Courage
Do you have a love of history? Then Profiles in Courage is for you. It is a non-fiction collection of autobiographies written by John F. Kennedy after he researched senators who tried to stop the Civil War from happening.
The relevancy of the work historically that shows how people can do great deeds in a terrible time. This message is even more powerful after you have read each of the autobiographies. By doing something like this and adding many supporting examples to your argument, then you will gain a large impact.
By reading this work the student gets used to working with real life texts, which is mainly what the free response sources for the synthesis essay will be.
1984 by George Orwell is a dystopian novel about a man trapped in a world where it feels like Big Brother was always watching. The man, Winston, starts a sexual relationship with a woman and begins to rebel against the totalitarian society. Winston does this until he is tortured at the end of the novel.
1984 is Orwell’s cautionary tale that he argues for very well. Orwell shows examples of what will happen to society, why it will happen, and the effects of this. If you can pick out the rhetorical methods put forth by Orwell, and answer questions about the persuasive technique, then you will have be more prepared for the multiple choice portion. This is because the multiple choice section contains passages with rhetorical devices that the student needs to be able to identify. Practicing with 1984 will get the student ready for that.
A Room of One’s Own
We will now journey into the world of feminism for A Room of One’s Own, an essay by Virginia Woolf. This non-fiction piece reveals the plight of the woman and how a woman in that time period lived. Woolf used her persuasive writing in order to reveal the problem of the repression of women. She did this predominantly by using a bedroom as a symbol for equality. Woolf convinced her readers that women deserve a room of their own.
Virginia Woolf was an enticing author not only because of her persuasive talent. She utilized grammar, diction, and syntax in order to truly enhance her own writing and in turn, her argument. One example of this is in the title of the essay. A Room of One’s Own is a feminist essay, but Woolf specifically uses the word, “one’s” instead of “her”. This careful diction allows Woolf to push equality is every aspect of her argument from her style to the words itself.
Politics and the English Language
This essay by George Orwell showcases the murky political language that English is turning into. He criticizes the politicians that make lies sound truthful, causing strife within the nation. Orwell lays out his solutions in points very clearly, showing how print needs to be.
This essay is important to doing well on the AP English Language Exam, because if you follow his advice on the economy of language, then you will clarify your argument. Orwell’s issue with the language was that people cloud their arguments with it, so be sure to read and follow his advice.
This non-fiction book is by Malcolm Gladwell, who argues that he knows the story of success. He illustrates how to succeed in everything: from ice hockey to accumulating a Bill Gates level of wealth.
This is important for the betterment of your score, because this author not only seems to have the recipe for success, but he also makes a clear argument that is a wonderful example for crafting an argument.
The Unknown Citizen
The Unknown Citizen is a poem written by W. H. Auden. He criticizes individualism in the United States that he does not believe exists. Auden also speaks of a time before. This was a time where individuals were only to be known for their number. He then discusses controlling government agencies that micromanage the people’s lives.
This poem will be useful, because the exam focuses on real world criticisms within unfamiliar texts. The poem is all about criticizing the world in which Auden lived, making this poem great practice for the exam.
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Silent Spring was an environmental look at society written by Rachel Carson. This non-fiction book focused on the destruction of bird species because of the pollution of pesticides. This book led to the banning of the dangerous pesticide, DDT. This was a great book to read, because this was an argument that won the day. Carson got what she wanted, and she also spread awareness for her cause. This was what you want to do on exam day. Silent Spring is also a non-fiction work; therefore, the intense analysis of the work will be good practice for the AP test.
Utopia by Thomas More was a book that was written in 1516 in Latin. This was written to convey his ideas about political, social, and religious norms in society. Strong arguments are spurred forward by More’s use of fiction. Because of this, Utopia is a valuable work to have a working knowledge of for the AP English Language Exam. More’s use of fiction is a popular and effective way to persuade, and knowing this will assist you in your multiple choice portion of the exam. Since Utopia was written in a much older vernacular, this gives the students a different approach to prose that will prove useful if older texts come up on the exam.
One of Shakespeare’s most famous plays, King Lear, is another great work to have in your repertoire. This tragedy is about a man called Lear who splits his estate between his three girls based on how well they flatter him. Naturally, everything falls apart as human nature destroys Lear. This is an important one to have in your mind on exam day, because the writers of the exam love to throw in a Shakespeare excerpt in the multiple choice section, and this is one of Shakespeare’s most famous plays. Being able to pick this work apart will set you apart from the others.
Julius Caesar is another famous play by William Shakespeare. Even though the play is called Julius Caesar, the psychological tragedy focuses more on Brutus’s patriotism and his guilt. The amazing language that is used within the play makes the work stand out. The figurative language is so compelling that it would be remiss if we had not mentioned it. To have a great argument you may need some beautiful figurative language, and this is a great example. In the multiple choice section you will have to pick out certain figurative language terms, so practicing identifying them in this work will be helpful.
The Handmaid’s Tale
The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of fiction that speculates about the dystopian future of a Christian theocracy that overthrows the United States government. This is another example of how working with a concrete, definite message through fiction will cement your argument in the minds of your readers. While it may not be possible to write in fiction on your AP English Language Exam, you will get extra practice in analyzing that argument under the layers of fable. Analysis is extremely important in every aspect of the AP English Language exam, from the multiple choice to the free response section.
Kabul Beauty School
Deborah Rodriguez, the author of the novel Kabul Beauty School, writes in her book about her experiences traveling to war-torn Afghanistan. This heart-warming tale reveals the social and political issue of war-torn nations and the treatment of women. This more modern novel is a great addition to your reading list, because the message of equality is sent through this novel, utilizing subtlety and a ton of pathos. This appeal to the emotions allows the audience to get close to the argument and buy into it. Doing this on your exam will give you a leg up. Also, being able to think in different ways, like Rodriguez does, will allow you to see different angles on the multiple choice sections. Some questions do not have a straightforward answer and must be thought of differently.
The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby, a novel by Fitzgerald, is the story of an outsider who meets a man named Gatsby. Gatsby is a rich man who covers his insecurities and traumas by throwing extravagant parties. Symbolism runs rampant in this tale as the “green light” that Gatsby stares at longingly represents his unattainable love, Daisy. Gatsby’s life unfortunately ends as he is shot in the closing of the novel. Fitzgerald uses a stunning precision and beautiful phrasing in order to convey his point. He looks at Gatsby as he looks at society, once again showing that symbolism. This is a great way to strengthen your argument and practice identifying different elements of figurative speech for the multiple choice section.
The Crucible is a play written by Arthur Miller that focuses on Puritans and the Salem Witch Trials. The Salem Witch Trials originated when girls blamed men and women they disliked in order to get rid of them. This play focuses on how religious zeal can cause mass hysteria and paranoia. Having that dramatic aspect added to a historical aspect puts even more power in the play. The story focuses on how characterization can fuel an argument or message. By revealing the character of the individual you can enhance your essays. You can also think about this idea in terms of applying what you know to questions you are given in the multiple choice section. If you are not sure about one of the questions, then apply a work that you understand to the question. This may illuminate the answer.
In Cold Blood
In Cold Blood was written by Truman Capote to document the Herbert Clutter murders. The author does extensive research of these murders and on Clutter himself in order to get his message across. Without this skill you will not be able to properly answer your free response questions adequately. After all, the most important piece of the free response essays is your argument. You need to be able to make a claim and support it as Capote does. Also, the non-fiction element of Capote’s work relates well to other passages that you will see on your multiple choice section of the AP English Language exam.
Reading for Success
This AP English Language reading list, while it does not encompass every book that will be useful during the AP English Language Exam, is a great place to start and finish. This is a ton of reading material, and by completing this list you will increase your AP score.
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