What Next? Books to Inspire Graduates (And Anyone Facing a Major Milestone)

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When someone you love is taking a big step — graduating from school, striking out on their own, or making a big life change — it can be tough to know what to say beyond the usual platitudes: Go get ’em! You can do it! (And if you’re a parent, you can’t always be sure you’ll be heard.) That’s why we’re lucky to have books to say important things for us.

If the graduate in your life already has standbys such as Oh, The Places You’ll Go and A Short Guide to a Happy Life, consider adding to their collection of wisdom with one of these new or notable titles:

Assume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You'll Never Hear Cover ImageAssume the Worst: The Graduation Speech You’ll Never Hear 

“This commencement address will never be given, because graduation speakers are supposed to offer encouragement and inspiration. That’s not what you need. You need a warning.” That’s how Carl Hiassen begins this hilarious guide to planning a future in a world where everything could go wrong. It’s illustrated by Roz Chast, making for a pitch-perfect pairing. These two skeptics with hearts of gold deliver real-talk that’s cynical on the surface but also a lot more motivating and empowering than the cover lets on.

For Every One Cover ImageFor Every One 

Jason Reynolds sat down to write For Every One after reflecting on a setback early in his writing career. It’s a letter to every person of any age — but especially every young person — who needs convincing they can get up after falling down. As he told us in a recent interview, the message of the book is “that the gift is in the dream itself, not necessarily in the fruition of said dream.” Give it to anyone who needs to hear they have what it takes.

Am I There Yet?: The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood Cover ImageAm I There Yet?: The Loop-De-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood 

Mari Andrew’s doodles took Instagram by storm, earning the artist a devoted following for the candid, emotionally honest way she portrays everyday milestones from starting a career to chasing a dream to falling in (and out of) love. This collection, interspersed with bits of memoir about Andrew’s own path, will delight and inspire anyone who’s technically an adult but isn’t feeling quite ready to claim the label “grownup” yet.

If I Could Tell You Just One Thing . . .: Encounters with Remarkable People and Their Most Valuable Advice Cover ImageIf I Could Tell You Just One Thing . . . Encounters with Remarkable People and Their Most Valuable Advice

This book includes 50 nuggets of advice from thoughtful, accomplished leaders in their fields, including Bill Gates, Judi Dench, the Dalai Lama, Margaret Atwood, David Attenborough, Annie Lennox, Richard Branson, Jude Law, Harry Belafonte, James Corden and more. Reading it will take you far less time than tracking them all down in person, and you’ll come away with all the insight and none of the restraining orders.

Creative Quest Creative Quest Cover Image

Listen to this NPR interview, and you’ll want to read anything Questlove writes. The musician, designer, producer, culinary entrepreneur, professor, and all-around Renaissance person for the modern age shares what he has learned on his own life adventure and from brilliant collaborators including Ava DuVernay and David Byrne.

I Just Graduated... Now What?: Honest Answers from Those Who Have Been There Cover ImageI Just Graduated . . . Now What?: Honest Answers from Those Who Have Been There

Katherine Schwarzenegger interviewed public figures from John Legend to Gayle King to amass this handy collection of guidance for anyone who finds themselves out of school, in the real world, and totally clueless about what to do next.

Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning Cover ImageFailing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning 

Get a copy of this for the graduate in your life, and also get one for yourself (and every Hamilton fan you know). Leslie Odom, Jr.’s musings on adversity, lifelong learning, and surrounding yourself with people who mean you well are as smooth and enjoyable as his vocals.

What Would Dolly Do?: How to Be a Diamond in a Rhinestone World Cover ImageWhat Would Dolly Do?: How to Be a Diamond in a Rhinestone World 

Forget Jolene — we will always love you, Dolly.  This little book fits in a pocket and packs inspiration as big as the superstar’s blonde wig. Perfect for anyone facing an obstacle, feeling like an island in a stream, or getting ready to start workin’ 9 to 5.

Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness Cover ImageCongratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness

George Saunders’ graduation address to Syracuse University from a few years ago still stands out for its unique message: your success as a person isn’t about what you gain or how much you achieve, but how kind you are. We need it today more than ever before. (Would it be wrong to mail copies to a few public figures?)

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry about ItIn Conclusion, Don't Worry about It Cover Image

“I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve had successes and senior slumps. I’ve been the girl who has the lead, and the one who wished she had the bigger part. The truth? They don’t feel that different from each other.” That’s from a commencement speech given at her hometown high school by Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls actress and author of the memoir Talking as Fast as I Can. It’s just the pep talk anyone needs when they’re starting out.

What Now? Cover ImageWhat Now?

Parnassus is the place to get signed copies of What Now? — which has become a classic for good reason. Based on Patchett’s commencement address at Sarah Lawrence College, this rousing ode to finding your way, making mistakes, and carving out a path will get even the most ambivalent graduate fired up to take his or her next steps.

Two practical guides to living in the real world, for when what someone really needs to know is how to make a budget, build a wardrobe, get a job, and make their darn bed.

Make Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life...and Maybe the World Cover ImageMake Your Bed: Little Things That Can Change Your Life . . . And Maybe the World 

Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration Cover ImageStart Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration 

Full of writing prompts, creative exercises, and colorful illustrations, Meera Lee Patel’s Start Where You Are offers a hands-on experience in visualizing what lies ahead. (Also by Patel: My Friend Fear)

Come check out our array of tiny books, too — with plenty of pocket-size wisdom, ranging from odes to Michelle Obama to quotes by Cheryl Strayed!
Step one toward the future: get organized. Give the gift of a fresh start with a new Moleskine journal or calendar.
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If you thought our Lumio lamps were breathtaking, just wait until you see the impressive new miniature version (shown above). The Mini Lumio is a compact, multi-functional lamp and battery pack for mobile phones that conceals itself in the form of a gorgeous pocket-size hardcover book. It opens to 360 degrees, comes with built-in charging cables, and makes a very memorable gift. Order the mini here!

We’d be happy to put together a customized bundle of wrapped books for the graduate in your life, no matter what they’re graduating from (high school, college, a starter-job, a bad marriage . . . it all counts). Come say hello!