Staff Picks

10 Books for New Graduates

May 09, 2018


These ten books make perfect gifts for your new grads, as they begin to navigate the Rest of Their Lives.

We are now in the season of lazy afternoons at the ballpark, tending to our bursting rhubarb patches, and clapping for graduates as they cross the stage to receive their degree. Your loved ones have spent endless hours studying and are now ready to step from the classroom into the boardroom. Ha ha, just kidding, there are a few steps in between! We’re here to help them on that journey. These ten books make perfect gifts for your new grads, as they begin to navigate the Rest of Their Lives.

In Conclusion, Don’t Worry About It (Ballantine Books, $15.00) by Lauren Graham

The role of the commencement speech within the staid graduation ceremony is usually to inspire the new graduates to gather up all of the lessons they’ve learned, go forth and scale yonder mountains, take the world by storm, {enter your own graduation cliche here}. Unless you are Lorelai Gilmore (a.k.a. Lauren Graham), in which case the message is more about “finding joy in what you’re doing, especially when the joy isn’t finding you.” It’s easy to think that achievement will bring happiness, but more often than not, it’s the other way around. “The fun of doing the daily crossword puzzle with my TV children between shots on the set of Parenthood rivaled any awards show I’ve ever attended. The ‘success’ parts of life look good to others, but the best parts are actually the simple, daily experiences.”

Perfect for: the graduate who gets to listen to a commencement speech by a local toilet paper businessperson next weekend instead of an immensely charming actress.


Make Trouble (Algonquin Books, $14.95) by John Waters

If you are at all familiar with the films of John Waters, you might think he’s not at the tippy top of every college’s list for commencement speaker. Unless that college is the Rhode Island School of Design, which has spawned the likes of David Byrne and the Talking Heads, Jenny Holzer, Kara Walker, Seth MacFarlane, and Shepard Fairey. Known as the “Prince of Puke,” Waters encourages the next generation to follow his lead and keep pushing the envelope. “It’s your turn to make trouble. But this time in the real world. And this time from the inside...Today may be the end of your juvenile delinquency, but it should also be the first day of your new adult disobedience.”

Perfect for: the graduate who ended up on both the Dean’s List and the “Really Close to Being Expelled” list.  


Failing Up: How to Take Risks, Aim Higher, and Never Stop Learning (Feiwel & Friends, $19.99) by Leslie Odom, Jr.

What does it take to make your wildest dreams come true? Innate talent plays a part, but the more critical qualities are yours to find and flex: Humanity, generosity, kindness, intelligence, fearlessness. Leslie Odom, Jr. connects the dots of his life that prepared him to tackle the once-in-a-lifetime role as Aaron Burr in the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton. He gives readers an inside look into the bold decision making, attention to performance detail, and cultivation of a support network that made his trip to the podium at the Tony Awards a reality. “All these years later, I could see that every triumph and every failure, every lesson learned along the way, was available for me to access and use to ensure that I made the most out of this moment.”

Perfect for: the graduate who is not throwing away their shot, and wants to be in the room where it happens.


Creative Quest (Ecco Press, $27.99) by Questlove

Questlove is skeptical about books about creativity. And he’s curious about why he’s skeptical. Looking to meld the ‘how-to-be creative’ book with the ‘creativity as therapy’ line of books, he came up with his own fresh take on the genre. From his perch as cofounder of The Roots and musical director for the Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, the author calls on his extensive network of friends that “live and work at the intersection of art and commerce” in an effort to help readers connect their creative impulses with tangible goals. Questlove looks to Ava DuVernay, George Clinton, Laurie Anderson, Bjork, and others in service to his readers: “I will play good student to their good teacher, and I will try to understand the ways they feed my own creativity.”

Perfect for: the graduate who is looking to develop their lifelong creative practice outside the structures of assignments and classes.

Am I There Yet? (Clarkson Potter, $19.99) by Mari Andrew

Sometimes, when we are feeling our way through the dark, crippled with decision-making, and convinced that everyone else around us is sailing smoothly along a selfie superhighway, it’s comforting to know that there is someone else out there asking, “Am I doing this right?” And it’s even more helpful when that person has recently (and successfully!) navigated the crooked path that is your twenties, and came out the other side paying her bills with her true calling. Instagram artist Mari Andrews will take your graduate through moving, jobs, breakups, disappointments, and finding themselves as a real, bonafide a.d.u.l.t. “It’s a scrapbook of my own journeyso farto adulthood that I hope will bring you comfort if you, too, are on a less-than-direct journey through life.”

Perfect for: the graduate who is talented and driven and smart and just maybe earned a degree without a clear career path (psst: English majors).

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work (Ballantine Books, $16.00) by Alison Green

As your graduate enters the professional workplace, let this mercilessly frank and exceedingly helpful book steer them through all of the office world’s most vexing dilemmas: “What to do when your boss thinks he is a Mayan shaman” or “Your coworker keeps making judgmental comments about your snacks” or “What about if you are being pressured to donate to a workplace charity drive you don’t support?” Written by Alison Green, behind the blog of the same name, and the “Ask a Boss” column for New York magazine’s The Cut, this books helps find that starting place for all of the awkward but necessary conversations we have with our co-workers every day. “It turns out that our workplaces are full of people who are frustrated, hurt, or fed upbut aren’t speaking up about it because they can’t figure out what to say or even how to start the conversation.”

Perfect for: the graduate walking into their first office job, whose entire professional experience to date can be summed up with the words, “Are you still working on that burger?”

Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27.00) by David Burkus

Making new connections in college can be effortless; you get thrown in a freshman dorm with people you’ve never met and become life-long friends after the first weekend. Five classes each semester for (hopefully!) four years turns out to be a boat load of new people in your contact listnot to mention those from your pick-up rugby team, the weekly screenings at the arthouse cinema, protest rallies in front of the admin building, and well, it just doesn’t end. Until you graduate, and then… how do you meet people again? The world of “networking” sounds horrible, but David Burkus is here to tell you how all of those people you met in college can get you where you need to go in your professional life. “Your connections matter. But so does how you know them, why you know them, where you met them, and who else they know.”

Perfect for: the graduate who doesn’t even want to go to their own graduation party.


So You Want to Talk About Race (Seal Press, $27.00) by Ijeoma Oluo

This one’s for the white graduates only. People of color already know all of this stuff, and it’s not okay for your graduate to ask them to do free emotional labor in the workplace to explain the intersectional history and complicated structures of systemic racism in society. Nope. But Ijeoma Oluo got paid to write this book so those in the predominant culture could answer some of these questions for themselves: “Why am I always being told to ‘check my privilege’?” or “Why can’t I touch your hair?” or “I just got called a racist, what do I do now?” Oluo’s approach to the complex topic of race in America is direct, helpful, and compassionate. “I’m so glad you are here. I am so glad you are willing to talk about race. I’m honored to be a part of this conversation with you.” White allies, it’s time do your homework, and Oluo is here to be your guide.

Perfect for: the 58% of college students who are white, especially those who did not attend an HBCU.


Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics: A 10% Happier How-To Book (Spiegel & Grau, $26.00) by Dan Harris

The transition from college to the professional world is a time of extreme change, and thus, extreme stress. Most graduates will have to change their home, their city, and their daily networks in the next few weeks. NBC News anchor Dan Harris is here to give them tools to deal with that stress, namely, to help them develop a regular meditation practice. Since writing his bestselling book 10% Happier, Harris has become increasingly interested in the subset of the population that are aware of the benefits of meditation, who want to meditate, but aren’t actually meditating. Why not? He breaks down this resistance into eight categories (“I Don’t Have Time for This,” “People Might Think I’m Weird,” “If I Get Too Happy, I’ll Lose My Edge”) to help his readers over the most common stumbling blocks on their road to regular meditation. “The goal is not to clear your mind but to focus your mindfor a few nanoseconds at a timeand whenever you become distracted, just start again. Getting lost and starting over is not failing at meditation, it is succeeding.”

Perfect for: the graduate grappling with any sort of anxiety, depression, ADD, or fear of the unknown future (a.k.a. all of us), who would benefit greatly from an ongoing meditation practice that encourages focus and calm.


You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck-To-Paycheck Cycle, Getting Out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want (Harper Business, $23.99) by Jesse Mecham

What says “I’m an adult now” more than making your very first personal budget? Not much. And who better to teach a recent grad about budgeting than someone who made up his own budgeting system while in grad school? What started as a simple spreadsheet by Jesse Mecham and his wife Julie while in college has now grown into a budgeting mini-empire: first the You Need A Budget website, then an app, and now a book. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a recent grad navigating your first year of adulting or a retiree just starting to make withdrawals from your 401(k).” If you are looking for a simple, effective, and pain-free introduction to budgeting, this book is the one.

Perfect for: the graduate who plans on making money. Any amount.

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