6 Books to Read After You’ve Aced Your AP

Devils, Ghosts, and a Menagerie of Pets

Cramming for the AP has ended, you are well on your way to a relaxing summer, and your brain needs something fun to push that scantron form out of your head. After months of reading disembodied passages and stilted interpretations of said passages, I know I was ready to read something that would excite my imagination—something that mattered.

Here are six short stories that will get you geared up for fun summer reading. Don’t let the publication date fool you, these stories are just as clever, witty, and captivating as everything on today’s best seller list. And, if your brain has jumped off the analysis train for the summer, we have some easy-to-read annotations throughout these stories to keep you engaged!

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1. “The Black Cat

The Feline Horror Story

Author: Edgar Allen Poe

Published: 1843

Reading time: 21 minutes

Readability: 9th Grade

Enter the mind of a mad, drunk, and vile human being as he eloquently justifies his hatred for a housecat. Seriously. Like many of Poe’s other narrators (see “The Tell Tale Heart” or “The Cask of Amontillado”), this one is untrustworthy. He will keep you on your toes as you try to distinguish reality from the narrator’s own twisted truth.

Why should you read this?

If psychological thrillers fill you with gloomy delight, this story is for you. Poe is a master of atmosphere, irony, and double meanings. While his language can be hard to follow without a thesaurus, the flow of his sentences will suck you into the story and all its horror.

Content Notice for animal lovers: The narrator is explicitly cruel to cats in this story 🙁


2. “A Jury of Her Peers”

The Feminist Murder Mystery

Author: Susan Glaspell

Published: 1917

Reading time: 20 minutes

Readability: 9th Grade

Set in rural Iowa (where Glaspell is actually from), the story follows Martha Hale to the scene of a murder. Minnie Wright, a sweet, fragile girl Martha knew in her childhood, has been accused of murdering her husband, John. Accompanied by her husband, the sheriff, and the sheriff’s wife Mrs. Peters, Mrs. Hale goes to the Wright house to uncover the truth and finds that things are not as they seem to be.

Why should you read this?

If you love murder mysteries and women sticking it to the man, this is your story. This story explores sexism with its folksy, relatable, and heartbreaking tone. As the women pull back the layers of Minnie’s life and discover the truth of what happened, you will cringe, flinch, rage, and cry. See if you can solve the mystery before Mrs. Hale does.


3. “The Lady with the Pet Dog”

The Seaside Love Story

Author: Anton Chekhov

Published: 1903

Reading time: 35 minutes

Readability: 8th Grade

This is the story of a jaded “lady-killer’s” path to falling in love. But, before you roll your eyes and move on, this is a different take on what might look like a common tale. Unlike other romantic heroes, Chekhov’s Dmitri does not undergo a remarkable transition or redemption because of his love. Instead, Chekhov presents a realistic figure of a man in love that offers an un-romanticized version of this unconventional relationship. The lack of moral judgement, redemption, or glorification allows the story to focus on the intense love between the two main characters, which in turn makes it the most romantic of love stories.    

Why should you read this?

For those of you who like forbidden-love stories with a hint of adultery, prepare your tissues. You may not always love Dmitri and his perspective on women and love, but the raw and very realistic portrayal of a couple who are caught off guard by love will make you empathize with them and all of their flaws. Watch how the POV of the narrator changes over the course of the story—it’s the key to the story’s most bitter-sweet revelation.


4. “The Canterville Ghost”

The Comedic Ghost Story

Author: Oscar Wilde

Published: 1887

Reading time: 50 minutes

Readability: 12th Grade

This is not your typical ghost story. The ghost who haunts the Canterville manner is crotchety, dramatic, and theatrical. But when his antics are thwarted by a very practical American family, his skittish and melancholic nature is comically revealed.

Why should you read this?

If you love all things absurd and macabre, this one’s for you. Wilde perfectly combines horror with comedy to transform the horror-story villain into a laughable fool. You will experience the same surprise that the ghost feels when the family reacts benignly to headless hauntings, rattling chains, and bloodstained carpets. Though chances are you will laugh rather than throw a ghastly tantrum.


5. “The Devil and Tom Walker”

The Deal-with-the-Devil Legend

Author: Washington Irving

Published: 1824

Reading time: 23 minutes

Readability: 7th Grade

In this classic deal-with-the-devil (Faustian) story, Tom Walker sells his soul for wealth and power in his small Boston town. The devil, or “Old Scratch,” offers to give Tom access to the treasure of Captain Kidd, a pirate who buried his treasure in the swamp. Driven by greed and amorality, Tom accepts the trade only to discover, far too late, what he’s actually lost.

Why should you read this?

If you like Lemony Snicket, Doctor Faustus, and urban myths, this one is for you. Irving’s narrator creates reality out of fiction by posing as a researcher relating “true stories” from 18th-century New England. The fun of this tale is not just the story, but the narrator’s ability to mimic a legend.


6. “The Garden Party”

The Coming of Age Myth

Author: Katherine Mansfield

Published: 1922

Reading time: 23 minutes

Readability: 9th Grade

Young Laura helps her mother set up for an extravagant garden party in New Zealand. When they hear of a neighbor’s unfortunate accident and death, Laura experiences sympathy for the man and is sent down the hill into the dark, ominous neighborhood of the working class to express her family’s condolences.

Why should you read this?

If you love 1920s dialect and Greek mythology, you will LOVE this story. This story doubles as a retelling of Persephone’s journey to the underworld. Mansfield includes so many subtle and overt references to the myth that you might miss them if you aren’t careful. See if you can catch them all, or use the annotations to appreciate Mansfield’s brilliance.

Happy reading!