Practically since college was invented, Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, The Places You’ll Go” has been the go-to gift for graduates. While the zany picture book has remained a classic for good reason, young adults can take advantage of a new crop of books to face a host of challenges. With the lackluster job market, the increasingly baffling dating trends of 20-somethings and other key concerns (including what to eat for dinner) in mind, we’re recommending these thoughtful, practical and hilarious guides to life. Read on to see which book will make the perfect gift for your grad as they enter the “real” world.
Perfect for: The soul-searcher
Real talk: The transition to adulthood can be disorienting. Just ask Cheryl Strayed who, at 22, set out to hike 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail (you know, that little footpath that stretches from the Mexican border to British Columbia) with the lunatic heroic goal of testing her own strength and discovering who she really was. Give “Wild” to the grad (complete with a “Do Not Try This Yourself” sticker) who, on the cusp of adulthood, could use a spiritual compass.
Perfect for: The Ramen fiend
New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman’s classic encyclopedia of kitchen fundamentals is a win for parents as well as grads: Mom doesn’t have to worry that her kid’s penchant for Easy Mac and takeout will land them in the hospital with scurvy, and newly minted young adults can populate their Instagram profiles with filtered portraits of seared bok choy and grilled quail—#success.
Perfect for: The artist you’d prefer not to see starve
Cult novelist Neil Gaiman’s 2012 commencement address at the University of Arts in Philadelphia became a viral sensation last summer and now, the speech is available as a book. With the “American Gods” author’s hard-won wisdom on failure, patience, discipline and integrity, the slim volume makes an ideal gift for grads hoping to eke out careers as creators. “Sometimes the way to do what you hope to do will be clear-cut,” Gaiman says. “And sometimes it’ll be almost impossible to decide whether or not you’re doing the correct thing, ’cause you’ll have to balance your goals and hopes with feeding yourself.”
Perfect for: The world-changer
If the grad in your life is a mover-and-shaker who wants to make the world a better place, the first lesson they’ll learn as an adult is that idealism alone won’t bring their dreams to fruition. Blake Mycoskie is the rare individual who turned his sky-high hopes into reality: He founded TOMS, a footwear company that donates a pair of shoes to an impoverished child for every pair you buy. In “Start Something That Matters,” he describes his own challenges and triumphs and offers pragmatic advice to young entrepreneurs on making the most of limited resources and staying optimistic in the face of setbacks.
Perfect for: The corner-office-bound
Then, there’s the kill-or-be-killed approach to success: This ancient treatise on combat strategy by the Chinese general Sun Tzu has proved deeply influential throughout history and its pillars of wisdom—on such topics as “Planning Offensives” and “Vacuity and Substance”—are as applicable in the world of business as they are in military warfare. As said best by Sun Tzu: “Warfare is…the basis of life and death, the Way (Tao) to survival or extinction. It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed.”
6. The Dark
Perfect for: The real-world-phobe
Still set on giving your grad a children’s picture book to celebrate their big day? Dr. Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” certainly paints a bright picture of the road ahead, but doesn’t really account for the fact that adult life is full of big scary unknowns. For a shrewder, but no less stunning, parable about living life to the fullest, we recommend Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen’s new children’s book, “The Dark.” Its heartwarming story about Lazlo, a young boy who’s terrified of the dark, will remind readers of all ages that facing fears opens doors, as well as the mind.
Perfect for: The pragmatist
Unless by some chance the grad in your life took “Special Topics in Daily Life as an Adult: Theory and Practice” in their senior year, there’s a whole host of little things they’ll need to learn to do on their own—and quickly. Kelly Williams Brown’s “Adulting” has concise tips on a range of real-person skills, such as: how to clean your apartment, stock your kitchen, live frugally and “convince [your family] your (metaphorical) diapers no longer need changing.”
Perfect for: The deep thinker
Another inspiring commencement address that lives on as a book is the one David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. The late novelist is famous for his densely cerebral novels and nonfiction (such as “Infinite Jest” and “Consider the Lobster”), but here he seems intent on boiling his vast knowledge down to a few bare truths: “Never feel you have enough”; “worship your own body and beauty…and you will always feel ugly”; “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see and talk about.” For the grad intent on living the examined life, “This is Water” is a treasure.
Perfect for: The grad struck with wanderlust
Many grads take their swan dive out of school as an opportunity to see the world. Veteran travel writer Bill Bryson has written a variety of side-splitters, but his idiosyncratic take on England, “Notes From a Small Island,” should come with a Surgeon General’s warning. With irreverent tributes to everything from Shakespeare and zebra crossings to a place called—creepily—”Twiggie Winkie’s Farm,” the book will leave you reeling from laughter pains and, at the same time, armed with an entirely unique concept of what it means to experiences new places.
Perfect for: The romantic
With funny and practical tips on charming, grooming, planning a perfect date and more, this compendium of practical romance and sex advice is the ideal guide for the grad about to enter the adult dating universe, in which the line “My dorm room or yours?” just won’t fly.