Summer Reading for Graduates

If you’ve noticed that the only food group in your diet lately has been Free Pasta Salads, don’t worry. It’s not a covert conspiracy between macaroni salesmen and Midwestern moms to take over the world. Alright, it is, but it’s also graduation party season. And in your mayonnaise dressing haze, you may have forgotten that in exchange for the free food, you should bring a gift for the recent graduate (if you’ve crashed the party and are having trouble picking the grad out of a crowd, look for the one giving off the ‘frightened and aimless’ vibe, usually characterized by nervous laughter and a constant darting of the eyes).

Maybe your biggest gift to them is a human representation of life choices they should avoid. But you can’t wrap that. So consider the (cue echo) GIFT OF KNOWLEDGE. Instead of giving them a dayplanner or a laundry basket or the cash they really want, you could give your grad a book. And if you can’t afford to buy them a book, give them the following list and take them to the library to get a library card, the greatest gift of them all!

High School Grads:


For Guidance:

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: This book has remained popular since it’s release in 1990. I’m convinced it’s going to change my life once I  get around to reading it.

The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison: This essay collection about modern situations involving empathy explores how we relate to others. Good buy if you’re terrified your teen has spent too much time on their phone and won’t know how to feel empathy, although I think they’ll probably do ok. They just call it feels now.

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman: This guy won a Nobel Prize so you should listen to what he has to say about our quick intuitive thinking vs. our deliberate logical thinking and when to use which.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit: Got a grad that wants to explore? Send them packing with this thoughtful book to ponder as they wander.

What We Think About When We Try Not To Think About Global Warming by Per Espen Stoknes: Since they have to fix that.

For Fun:

Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley: If American Graffiti took place in this century in Australia and instead of cruising you spent the night biking around with a boy searching for your favorite graffiti artist. So maybe not at all like American Graffiti. But still great.

The Disenchantments by Nina Lacour: This is one of my favorite summer books. A group of recent grads on a road trip, falling in and out of love and wondering what their futures hold.

College Grads:

“There’s no point to any of this. It’s all just a… a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. You know… a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, those are good, the sky about 10 minutes before it starts to rain, the moment where your laughter become a cackle… and I, I sit back and I smoke my Camel Straights, and I ride my own melt.”

In my opinion, the above speech by Reality Bite’s Troy Dyer is the only graduation speech you need. But if you were looking for something a little more hopeful, try any of these:

The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan: This collection by 2012 Yale grad, Marina Keegan, includes her popular essay from the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness”. The piece went viral after Marina was tragically killed in a car crash just days after her graduation

Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination by J.K. Rowling: Lookit, everyone knows that everything that comes out of Rowling’s mind and mouth is wise and golden, so why wouldn’t you give this book to everyone you know?

Congratulations, By the Way by George Saunders: Saunder’s speech to Syracruse U grads on how to live a satisfying life by being kinder.

If This Isn’t Nice What Is: Advice for the Young by Kurt Vonnegut: This is a collection of Vonnegut’s best speeches and includes “How to Make Money and Find Love!” and “How to Have Something Most Billionaires Don’t”

For Fun:

Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned” by Lena Dunham: Gotta let Lena herself describe this one:

“If I could take what I’ve learned and make one menial job easier for you, or prevent you from having the kind of sex where you feel you must keep your sneakers on in case you want to run away during the act, then every misstep of mine was worthwhile…No, I am not a sexpert, a psychologist or a dietician. I am not a mother of three or the owner of a successful hosiery franchise. But I am a girl with a keen interest in having it all, and what follows are hopeful dispatches from the frontlines of that struggle.”

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides: A reinvention of classic love stories. Three recent college grads in the 1980s tryna figure it out.

The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald: This generation isn’t the first to be chastised for being entitled. Anthony and Gloria, the main characters of this novel (believed to be based on Fitzgerald himself and his wife Zelda) are young, beautiful, and spendin’ cash like it’s going out of style in the early 1900s. But, as the title might imply, it doesn’t bode well for them… “Life plays the same lovely and agonizing joke on all of us.”

Yes Please by Amy Poehler: This book is so funny, but also so real and unapologetic about how hard it is to do what you really love.

Just Kids by Patti Smith: From Publishers Weekly: “In 1967, 21-year-old singer–song writer Smith, determined to make art her life… left her family behind for a new life in Brooklyn. …Through a series of events, she met a young man named Robert Mapplethorpe who changed her life—and in her typically lyrical and poignant manner Smith describes the start of a romance and lifelong friendship with this man.”

Good luck graduates. Stay sweet. Don’t ever change. I’ve had a crush on you since the first grade and never had the nerve to tell you, etc. etc.


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