What to Give the Graduate: 18 Books We Love

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When selecting a gift for someone who’s graduating from school and moving on to the next step in life, it’s important to balance your envy (oh, to be just starting out!) with your relief (thank goodness I’m not just starting out!) with your bossiness (I should probably tell this person everything they need to know about just starting out!). A great way to do that is to tape your mouth shut and hand over a wonderful book. Let it do the talking for you. 
 
Here are 18 pieces of bookish advice for new grads. (Descriptions by the publishers, with a bit of our own commentary thrown in.)
 
When in doubt, refer to the lessons of childhood.

The Peanuts gang model acceptance and self-awareness. 

 

Master the practical stuff. 

A pocket-size handbook packed with how-to guides and tips on navigating that first year away from home — a perfect gift for high-school seniors.
Determined to power through the uncertainty of post-gradua­tion, bestselling author Katherine Schwarzenegger embarked on a yearlong quest to gather the best guid­ance possible from more than thirty highly success­ful people working in fields like business, media, fashion, technology, sports, and philanthropy. Deep thoughts from big names.

 

Take inspiration from the world around you.

 

Anna Quindlen, the bestselling novelist and columnist, reflects on what it takes to “get a life” — to live deeply every day and from your own unique self, rather than merely to exist through your days. “Knowledge of our own mortality is the greatest gift God ever gives us,” Quindlen writes, “because unless you know the clock is ticking, it is so easy to waste our days, our lives.” Amen, sister. Great advice for all ages, especially those just starting out. (We have some SIGNED copies of this one! Stop by or order online with “SIGNED” in the comments at checkout.)

 

Seek out those who have been where you are and lived to tell about it.

Two best friends document their post-college lives in a hilarious, relatable, and powerfully honest epistolary memoir. Fast friends since they met at Brown University during their freshman year, Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale vowed to keep in touch after their senior year through in-depth — and brutally honest — weekly e-mails. This is the compilation of that correspondence — such fun to read.

Poignant, keenly observed, and irresistibly funny: a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing, where a young woman finds herself entangled with one of the last great figures of the century. A fantastic read for any age, but it may especially appeal to those headed off to the Big Apple to chase their dreams and live on ramen noodles in teeny apartments — or anyone planning to work in the literary world. (Release date: June 3)

 

 Everyone has to get a job sometime. Be prepared for life in the workplace.

Expanded and updated exclusively for graduates just entering the workforce, this extraordinary edition ofLean In includes a letter to graduates from Sheryl Sandberg and six additional chapters from experts offering advice on finding and getting the most out of a first job; résumé writing; best interviewing practices; negotiating your salary; listening to your inner voice; owning who you are; and leaning in for millennial men. Yes, dudes can lean in, too!

People often fear public speaking, especially when they’re just getting started. It’s authenticity and passion that win people over, this author says, not “polish.” But you can’t be authentic if you’re following guidelines that drain the life and personality out of your presentation. A great guide to giving work your best shot, even — or especially — when you’re nervous.

When you become responsible for yourself — and you are being paid to do a job — you’ve officially made it to the big leagues. Written by a Wall Street veteran, this book provides young people the tools they need to survive, thrive, and have fun in the competitive real world. Colorful anecdotes are paired with specific and practical advice on how to get–and do–a great job.

 

Laughter is the key to sanity when things get tough. 

 

Inspirational rhymes are one thing; realistic expectations are another. This book mashes them up with a hilarious riff on the Dr. Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go. The witty illustrations and verses will come as welcome comic relief to graduates who are feeling the pressure to succeed.

This book is not about laughing at lawyers. It’s about laughing with them. Created by the writing team of DuPuy (a practicing law partner) and Philpott (a humor writer and poet — and yes, that’s our Mary Laura), these hilarious vignettes comprise a collection to be treasured by anyone who has lived through law school, first jobs, thrilling victories, eye-opening disappointments, and the lifestyle particular to this career choice. This slim volume is perfect for law school graduates or college grads headed that way.

 

Stop and listen to those who took the time to write down their advice. 

 

Only once did David Foster Wallace give a public talk on his views on life, during a commencement address given in 2005 at Kenyon College. After his death, it became a treasured piece of writing reprinted in various publications before being turned into this book. Wallace’s one-of-a-kind insight, humor, and perspective really shine through.
Three months after George Saunders gave a convocation address at Syracuse University, a transcript of that speech was posted on the website of The New York Times, where its simple, uplifting message struck a deep chord. Within days, it had been shared more than one million times. Why? Because Saunders’s words tap into a desire in all of us to lead kinder, more fulfilling lives.
Randy Pausch, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon who had recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer gave this, his last lecture, and called it, “Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” It wasn’t about dying. It was about the importance of overcoming obstacles, of enabling the dreams of others, of seizing every moment (because “time is all you have…and you may find one day that you have less than you think”). It was a summation of everything Randy had come to believe. It was about living. A great example of a college lecture that sticks with you well into adulthood.

This is a profound expansion of David McCullough, Jr.’s popular commencement speech — a call to arms against a prevailing, narrow, conception of success, viewed by millions on YouTube. It’s a love letter to students and parents as well as a guide to a truly fulfilling, happy life. 
Best known as one of our most astonishing and enduring contemporary novelists, Kurt Vonnegut was also a celebrated commencement address giver. He himself never graduated college, so his words to any class of graduating seniors always carried the delight, and gentle irony, of someone savoring an achievement he himself had not had occasion to savor on his own behalf. 

Oh yes, we are recommending Dolly Parton. Expanding on the popular commencement speech Parton gave at the University of Tennessee, this is a deeper and richer exploration of the personal philosophy she has forged over the course of her astonishing career. This is one lady who has proven she has the guts to go after what matters most to her — and attain it.

This one, by our very own Ann Patchett, is a favorite. Based on her commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, it’s a stirring essay that offers hope and inspiration for anyone at a crossroads, whether graduating, changing careers, or transitioning from one life stage to another. With wit and candor, Ann tells her own story of attending college, graduating, and struggling with the inevitable question… what now? (Of course, we have signed copies available. Just stop by or order online and be sure to put “SIGNED” in the comments section at checkout. If you’d like it personalized, please call the store and speak with one of us before June 6: 615.953.2243 )

 
To all the 2014 graduates: Congratulations — you did it! One last piece of advice? Don’t give up on books just because you’re finished with school. The joy of reading never ends.

Now get out there and save the world.