Classic Books: An SAT Reading List


When taking the SAT it is in the student's best interest to have knowledge of certain canonical texts. The following books are literary classics and are helpful when it is time to take the test. Literary classics are often regarded as such due to their timelessness and their ability to convey larger concepts through symbols and allegory. It is important to choose wisely when it comes to focusing one's attention on selecting reading materials. The following selection represents literary masterpieces that are not only educational, but are also thought provoking and entertaining.

Pride and Prejudice (1797) Jane Austin

Pride and Prejudice is the story of Elizabeth Bennet, one of five daughters living in 19th century England. The conflict centers around her mother's quest to marry off her daughters to wealthy gentlemen of good standing.

Wuthering Heights (1847) Emily Bronte

Wuthering Heights is a tale of the corrosive effects of jealousy and revenge, and a woman's choices between cultural restrictions and freedom.

The Awakening (1899) Kate Chopin

A married woman named Edna Pontellier struggles to choose between her obligations and a more carefree lifestyle. The story is set in Louisiana at the turn of the century.

The Red Badge of Courage (1895) Stephen Crane

This United States Civil War-themed novel revolves around a fictional Union soldier named Henry Fleming and his quest for redemption after an act of cowardice in battle.

Don Quixote (1605) Miguel de Cervantes

A fictional character named Alonso Quijano takes the name of Don Quixote and goes on various quests to bring back the world of chivalry as he understands it.

The Three Musketeers (1844) Alexandre Dumas

This story is about D'Artagnan's adventures with three musketeers named Athos, Porthos, and Aramis, and their quest to survive a series of assassination attempts by Cardinal Richelieu and one of his agents, Milady de Winter.

The Great Gatsby (1925) F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set during the Roaring Twenties on Long Island, The Great Gatsby is the tale of millionaire Jay Gatsby's ill-fated pursuit of a married woman named Daisy Buchanan.

Lord of the Flies (1954) Sir William Golding

A group of boys are stranded by a plane crash on a remote and uninhabited island, and as a result of being left to govern for themselves, they descend into savagery. This novel addresses themes such as superstitions, power struggles, and corruption.

The Scarlet Letter (1850) Nathaniel Hawthorne

A fictional Puritan colony is rocked by a scandal centering around an act of adultery during the 1640s. This story addresses the issues of sin and Puritan legalism, as well as hypocrisy and the dangers of the pursuit of revenge.

Catch-22 (1961) Joseph Heller

Set during World War-II, Catch-22 is the story of a B-25 bombardier named Captain John Yossarian, and his struggles with various examples of circular logic in the military's bureaucracy.

Brave New World (1932) Aldous Huxley

The distant future is ruled by a one world government in this dystopian novel. Peace and stability are achieved through the strict control of the human population, both in terms of its numbers and the freedoms that they are allowed.

The Metamorphosis (1915) Franz Kafka

Through some unexplained event, a traveling salesman is physically transformed from a human being into some kind of insect or other unspecified vermin. The story revolves around his family's efforts to adapt now that he is no longer able to support them.

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) Harper Lee

Set in in the fictional Maycomb County, Alabama, this story centers around the injustice of classism, sexism and racial prejudice, particularly in the Southern United States.

The Call of the Wild (1903) Jack London

A domesticated dog named Buck is stolen from California and put to use as a sled dog during the Yukon Gold Rush. The story centers around his struggles to survive, thrive, and achieve dominance among his canine peers.

Beloved (1987) Toni Morrison

Sethe, an escaped slave under pursuit by a posse acting under the authority of the Fugitive Slave Act, makes a desperate move to save her daughter from slavery and is then haunted by what she believes to be the ghost of her murdered daughter.

Animal Farm (1945) George Orwell

A group of farm animals overthrow their human masters, only to fall victim to oppression by their own, in this allegorical criticism of life in the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin.

The Bell Jar (1963) Sylvia Plath

The story of a suburbanite woman named Esther Greenwood, and her struggle with the onset of clinical depression.

The Catcher in the Rye (1951) J. D. Salinger

Delving into issues such as teenaged fear, anxiety, alienation, and rebellion, The Catcher in the Rye depicts the struggles of Holden Caulfield as he tries to find his place and purpose in the world.

The Grapes of Wrath (1939) John Steinbeck

Set during the Great Depression during the period of droughts known as the Dust Bowl, this novel follows a family of impoverished farmers seeking a new life in California.

Treasure Island (1883) Robert Louis Stevenson

Narrated mostly by fictional character Jim Hawkins, this 6-part novel is a collection of adventures involving pirates and their hunt for treasures.

Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852) Harriet Beecher Stowe

This novel is set during the years before the Civil War and depicts both the horrors of slavery and the triumph of Christianity over human cruelty.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) Mark Twain

Continuing from the previous book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, this novel focuses on the adventures of its eponymous hero and his friend, a runaway slave named Jim.

Candide (1759) Voltaire

Through the trials of the novel's eponymous character, this story satirizes the religious concept of optimism.

Slaughterhouse Five (1969) Kurt Vonnegut

This novel is about a time-traveling soldier by the name of Billy Pilgrim, who has seen the time and manner of his death in the future.

The Color Purple (1982) Alice Walker

Set in the Depression-era South and narrated by the main character, Celie, The Color Purple is about one African American woman's struggles with abuse, sexual assault and sexist oppression within the African American community.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) Oscar Wilde

A young man sells his soul to maintain his good looks, and suffers the consequences.

Native Son (1940) Richard Wright

Set in Chicago's South Side during the Great Depression, a young African American man named Bigger Thomas struggles against racism and impoverishment, with tragic results.

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