The years immediately out of college can be a tough time for recent grads, full of opportunity and existential crisis in equal measure. Caroline Kitchener, author of Post Grad knows this firsthand, and has written about five women’s experiences immediately after finishing school. Books can be a big help during times of change, and here, Kitchener shares the five books every college graduate should read.
When it came out, this book was praised—and criticized—for what it had to say about women. But I think all graduates, male and female, should read this book as a manual for launching a successful and balanced career. It’s been three years since I read Lean In, but certain pointed pieces of advice have stuck with me. One example: When you’re emailing a potential mentor, don’t just ask for general life advice (they’re much more likely to respond if you ask specific questions). Sheryl Sandberg offers tangible tips that you can immediately incorporate into your job, and your life.
Before I graduated, I knew how to cook two things: eggs and boxed macaroni and cheese. Then my sister bought me Jamie Oliver’s simplest cookbook for Christmas—the one with a back flap that promises, “anyone can learn to cook.” Within weeks, I went from eating Chipotle every night to cooking chicken tikka masala and spaghetti bolognese. This change was good for my diet, but it was also good for my social life. I started inviting people over for dinner two or three times a week. That was how I started to build a new social life after college.
I love what this memoir has to say about finding your own unique home. Angela Palm grew up in rural Indiana. Despite feeling like she never really belonged, she went to college in-state, and stuck around after graduation. As a grad with no idea where I wanted to end up, I was motivated by how she made the decision to finally move. She traveled around to a few different cities, looking for a place that inspired her. She eventually settled in Burlington, Vermont, not because she had any ties there, but because she loved its position, between a lake and mountains. Palm’s description of that move made me feel like the whole world was open to me; that I could go anywhere if I was willing to take a risk.
Instead of writing off the twenties as a time for directionless exploration, Meg Jay argues that we should use this time strategically, and begin to lay the groundwork for the rest of our lives. She talks about a concept called Identity Capital, which you gain by having interesting, character-building experiences. For much of her twenties, Jay worked as an Outward Bound counselor for youth with criminal records. That experience didn’t relate to the career she later pursued, but it gave her something unique to talk about in interviews, and helped her become who she wanted to be. That made it worth it.
Every once in a while, I still go back and read Marina Keegan’s viral essay, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” published in The Yale Daily News a few days before her death. Keegan perfectly captures the most significant thing we lose when we graduate from college: “this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.” I read this book a few months after I graduated, and it gave me some semblance of that feeling again. Keegan writes like she is your best friend. And in my first few months living on my own, that was exactly what I needed.
Caroline Kitchener graduated from Princeton in 2014 with a degree in History and Gender Studies. Her work has appeared on The Atlantic and The Guardian. She currently lives in Washington, D.C. with her partner.