Each one of these graduation books will inspire, motivate, and problem-solve for grads entering the real world or heading off to college.

By Real Simple Editors
Updated May 14, 2020
Advertisement
Getty Images

It can be a serious struggle to pick out the right college graduation gifts or high school graduation gifts for your new grad, especially as they graduated into a new and different, coronavirus-changed world. Do they need supplies for a new apartment or dorm room? A new wardrobe? Just plain old money? Although the graduate is probably excited to be done with homework for now or to have a break from books until they head off to college, the best gift they can receive might actually be some non-required reading. Enter: the graduation book.

While they’re surely receiving tons of graduation advice from parents, older siblings, and just about everyone else they talk to, whether in-person or over Zoom, they’re probably more likely to listen to that advice if it’s bound and available on their bookshelf for reference any time they need it. Plus, they’ll need something to occupy their time once the graduation songs stop playing and all the quarantine graduation ideas are used up.

For the grad that’s still looking for their first job, how about Welcome to the Real World, an accessible guide to rocking your first job, no matter what industry you’re in? For the grad who is more worried about dealing with their first dorm room than their first college class, gift them What Do I Do If….?, a guide to everything from overcoming hangovers, to getting rid of bed bugs, and all of the panic-inducing situations in between.

For the college grad who’s having trouble finding his or her way, give them Postgrad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, to show them that even Ivy League graduates experience challenges in their careers. And for the graduate who just needs a little encouragement, give them Whatever You Are, Be a Good One, a collection of inspirational quotes to get them through the not-so-good times.

Each one of these inspiring graduation books will motivate and help grads entering the real world. Even if they don’t realize the helpfulness of these graduation book ideas at first, they’re sure to appreciate them later when their paths get rocky (though you’ll always be there to offer your advice, too, of course).

Penguin Random House

1

While most graduation speeches are full of hope and inspirational mantras, Hiaasen has different approach, of course. In this satirical graduation speech, Hiaasen lays out his wisdom for those entering the real world, in short: Always assume the worst. He includes such words of “wisdom” as, “If you don’t learn how to judge others—and judge fast—you’ll get metaphorically trampled from now until the day you die,” and, “Nobody can be absolutely anything they want to be.” Pessimists and optimists alike will laugh at Hiaasen’s tough-love and hilarious insights.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

St. Martin's Press

2

The digital world has transformed the way we spend our free time. The hours spent swiping away at our smartphones have depleted the hours we used to spend brainstorming and daydreaming. In this fascinating book, Zomorodi, host of WNYC’s popular podcast and radio show Note to Self, makes the case for being bored. She argues that daydreaming plays an essential role in creative thinking and outlines ways to structure time to space out in your own life.

To buy: $16; amazon.com.

Penguin Random House

3

Graham spent years giving us advice as Lorelei, everyone’s favorite fast-talking television mom on Gilmore Girls. In this commencement speech, first given in 2017 at her hometown high school, Graham takes a different approach from most graduation speakers, who offer practical career advice or tell graduates they can do anything they set their minds to. Instead, she says, it doesn’t matter what you do in the world or what you become. What matters most is finding joy.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

Henry Holt and Co.

4

When Fagan was in her 20s, she found herself in financial ruin of her own making. Sick of being broke, she took charge of her money, set a budget, became financially literate, and stopped living paycheck to paycheck. In The Financial Diet, she gives readers the tools they need to get informed, get organized, and get their finances under control—once and for all. This book is the perfect gift to help recent grads make smart money decisions early on.

To buy: $12; amazon.com.

Penguin Random House

5

Networking, students are often told, is a crucial aspect of job-hunting—but what does it really entail? It’s easy to get caught up sending dozens of LinkedIn connections or exchanging business cards, but are these interactions really helping you to achieve your goals? In this guide, Hoey teaches readers how to properly leverage professional relationships to help your career and how to build connections that last.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

amazon.com

6

What advice would your future 80-year-old self give to you today? That’s the question artist Susan O’Malley, who tragically died at age 38 before this charming book’s publication, asked more than 100 people in the San Francisco Bay Area. From an 8-year-old boy’s admonition to “listen to your mom, be friendly to people, don’t pull people’s hair” to an 85-year-old woman’s counsel to “stay in touch with your friends,” everyone, regardless of age, can take something away from this uplifting work.

To buy: $13; amazon.com.

amazon.com

7

It’s time to relearn your ABCs. Journalist and photographer Deborah Copaken delivers 26 genuine and funny pieces of advice set alongside beautiful street art. These little doses of wisdom remind readers to move past Anger, avoid sympathy card faux pas at Funerals, and to make sure to get plenty of Zzzs. Practical and pretty to look at—it’s a win-win.

To buy: $12; amazon.com.

amazon.com

8

Using science and compelling anecdotes, New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg offers a fascinating look at the habits we make and how we can change them to be happier, healthier, and more successful. With the days of pulling all-nighters and eating pizza at 2 a.m. (hopefully) behind your new grad, there’s no time like the present to get into a good routine.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

amazon.com

9

A spinoff of the New York Times food writer’s classic cookbook, this tutorial breaks down all the essentials of cooking: how to chop veggies, roast meat, cook pasta, and make simple meals with natural, fresh ingredients. Bittman even outlines the necessary equipment you’ll need to furnish your kitchen. A must for any new cook.

To buy: $20; amazon.com.

amazon.com

10

Taking its title from a famous Abraham Lincoln quote, this beautifully hand-lettered book shares 100 inspirational quotations from great minds such as Oscar Wilde, George Eliot, and Walt Whitman. Revisit this colorful read whenever you need a pick-me-up—or a push—to get out there and make the most of your day.

To buy: $10; amazon.com.

amazon.com

11

The late neurologist made his career studying the intricacies and quirks of the human mind. Before his death in August 2015, he turned his lens on himself, exploring the not-so-direct path he took along the way. Pit stops include setting a weightlifting record in California, his biker days, drug addiction, and falling in love at age 77. Be inspired by an extraordinary life well lived.

To buy: $10; amazon.com.

amazon.com

12

Hilarious and relatable, the author of adultingblog.com shares her tips for life after college. Skip through the chapters as needed (e.g., turn to “Domesticity” for advice on finding and cleaning an apartment or “Love” to learn how to argue effectively with your partner), but be ready to jot down some very helpful advice.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

amazon.com

13

Don’t let the bombardment of “What’s Next?” get to you. Schwarzenegger interviewed notable names (Eva Longoria, John Legend, and Serena Williams to name a few) to get their takes on navigating the bumpy roads of post-collegiate life. Their honest advice is a helpful reminder that you aren’t alone.

To buy: $15; amazon.com.

Barnes and Noble

14

From salary negotiations to apartment decorating, the real world is filled with a lot of new experiences. With this book, your student can tackle (and prepare for) any hurdle that’ll come up in the home or the office, with timeless-yet-practical advice from the editors of Real Simple. After reading a few pages, you might want this on your shelf, too.

To buy: $17; amazon.com.

Amazon

15

From an attack by killer bees to a clogged toilet to a forgotten anniversary, this tiny book offers solutions for any disaster your grad might encounter when finally out on his or her own. Each sticky situation is marked by how likely it is to happen, how easy it is to prevent, and whether or not you need to respond quickly.

To buy: $15; amazon.com.

Amazon

16

New York Times columnist David Brooks uses this book to distinguish “resume virtues”—skills that might look good to an employer—from “eulogy virtues”—morals and values that help us grow and form relationships. He encourages everyone to focus on the latter, and uses anecdotes, interviews, and psychology to give readers the tools to develop a more “moral character.”

To buy: $17; amazon.com.

Amazon

17

This book has 14 transcribed commencement speeches that encourage recent grads to be creative, be brave, and make their marks on the world. Speakers include Nora Ephron, Ira Glass, Tom Wolfe, and David Foster Wallace, and the book also illustrates the most inspirational quotes from each address.

To buy: $18; amazon.com.

Amazon

18

First-time employees need the right tools and resources to make the most of their desk jobs. Do Over goes over four inevitable transitions: a career ceiling (when you feel stuck), a career bump (maybe you lose your job), a career jump (a possible promotion), and a career opportunity (usually unexpected and scary). This practical advice will help grads take advantage of all four transitions, and succeed in any field.

To buy: $15; amazon.com.

Amazon

19

The eponymous posthumous essay that spurred this collection circulated quickly amongst college graduates in 2012 because it hit a nerve—everyone was looking for a way to stay connected to their friends when they went off alone in the world after leaving school. Keegan’s work—both essay and fiction—is a must-read for all young writers.

To buy: $11; amazon.com.

Amazon

20

Consider this children’s book to be 2015’s version of Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Edmund, an adorable ball of yarn, sets off to explore the world. He meets interesting people and visits exciting places, but ultimately, finds that he can’t head out into the world alone without a little support from his family.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

Amazon

21

Rowling’s famous Harvard commencement address has been transcribed into a pocket-sized book of wisdom and inspiration that all graduates will want on their shelves. Rowling encourages all graduates to be creative and embrace failure in order to find post-graduate success.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

Amazon

22

Sandberg’s Lean In offered valuable advice for women who had spent years feeling frustrated in the workplace, but this graduation edition is targeted at young women who have yet to begin. Her guide equips them with the tools necessary to negotiate, participate, and lead in whatever job they land.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

Amazon

23

This book explores the 20-something years with personal stories from the author’s clients, and scientific data to explain how the body and mind works during this crucial developmental period. For any millennial who feels overwhelmed or misunderstood, Jay’s analysis of young adult issues and advice for achieving success—both professionally and personally—will reassure and motivate.

To buy: $10; amazon.com.

Amazon

24

Thirty industry influencers discuss essential career advice for young people about to enter the workforce. Most importantly, they focus on obstacles they faced at work, because those often were essential to their success. Mentors include businessman and politician Michael Bloomberg, trainer Jillian Michaels, and artist Jeff Koons.

To buy: $14; amazon.com.

amazon.com

25

Strayed’s weekly “Dear Sugar” column in The Rumpus is now in book form, with one of her most compassionate, thoughtful columns—titled “Tiny Beautiful Things”—leading the collection. Through a combination of her own experiences and honest advice, this book is filled with one-liners (“Be brave enough to break your own heart”) that all graduates will adopt as mantras.

To buy: $9; amazon.com.

Amazon

26

Academy Award-winning producer Brian Grazer has talked to a host of accomplished people—from writers to actors to CEOs—to find out how creativity drives their work. These “curiosity conversations” helped him develop concrete advice for improving your professional and personal life.

To buy: $18; amazon.com.

Amazon

27

Women’s contributions to science and research are often overlooked, so Swaby profiles the achievements of 52 influential and innovative women who have proven that the sciences aren’t just for men. If you know a young woman looking to break into this male-heavy field, they’ll appreciate this book of innovators.

To buy: $11; amazon.com.

amazon.com

28

If the grad is nervous about leaving intern life and starting her very first full-time job, gift her Welcome to the Real World. Lauren Berger made a name for herself when she founded Intern Queen, a brand dedicated to helping college students get (and excel at) the internships of their dreams. In her second book, Berger has created an essential guide for recent grads. It's fun to read and provides useful tips for everything from dealing with rejection, to prioritizing, to learning to work with difficult personalities, and even how to set yourself up to be promoted.

To buy: $7; amazon.com.

amazon.com

29

For the creative grad in your life, give them this illustrated book from John Waters. Waters’ commencement speech at the Rhode Island School of Design, which was so inspiring it went viral online, is reimagined with pictures from Eric Hansen in this new book. While we are taught in school to pay attention and follow directions, Waters argues that to have a really creative life, one must reject what they’ve been told and forge their own paths. He encourages grads to make trouble in their lives: to imagine and execute crazy new ideas, to listen and try to work with their enemies, and to never forget to dream big.

To buy: $8; amazon.com.

amazon.com

30

We’re told our whole lives: work hard, get into a good college, and you’ll get a great job. But for many people, the process is far from that simple. In Postgrad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College, Caroline Kitchener writes about her experiences and those of four of her fellow Princeton grads in their first year out of school. Through their stories, Kitchener shows that even graduating from an Ivy League school doesn’t give you a fast pass through life. This honest account is a must-read for grads that feel alone as they struggle with newfound independence.

To buy: $16; amazon.com.

amazon.com

31

Many college students resent group projects, especially when their grades are riding on each member stepping up to do their part. What recent grads might not realize is that the real world is like one big group project—and you won’t always love your team members. In The Schmuck in My Office, Dr. Jody Foster gives practical tips for dealing with all kinds of office characters, from perfectionists, to narcissists, to coworkers that are impossible to communicate with. Foster also gives a little tough love to the reader—pointing out that sometimes they are the schmuck. With humor and relatable anecdotes, Foster focuses in on one of the most important parts of the working world: how well we collaborate with our peers.

To buy: $16; amazon.com.

amazon.com

32

When Admiral William H. McRaven gave a commencement speech at the University of Texas at Austin, he never anticipated it would be viewed online more than 10 million times, and then be expanded upon and turned into this book. For grads that are eager to make a difference in the world, but don’t know where to start, give them Admiral McRaven’s advice. He builds on ten simple principles, drawn from his time in Navy Seal training (but applicable to civilian life!), that will give them practical advice on how little changes (as simple as making your bed in the morning!) can have a profound impact on their day.

To buy: $11; amazon.com.