11 Books to Read After College Graduation (When You Have No Idea What's Going On)

ORLANDO, FL - MAY 10: In this handout photo provided by Rollins College, Elin Nordegren receives the Hamilton Holt Outstanding Senior Award for the Class of 2014 during her graduation from Rollins College on May 10, 2014 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cook for Rollins College via Getty Images)
Source: Handout/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Congratulations, recent graduate! Welcome to what people like to call "the real world," a mysterious place full of unpaid internships, endless jokes about the bad economy, and plenty of pop culture targeted at those existential crises specific to your Millennial soul. Get ready to learn the art of non-obvious networking and cheap happy hours (KIDDING! You already know all about cheap happy hours), and don't forget to cling to the people who seem like they could, at some point in the future, throw a scrap of freelance work your way. 

And while you're busy job-hunting or day-drinking or moving to the Big City or re-discovering a relationship with your siblings or paying off student loans or ALL OF THE ABOVE AT ONCE, you might as well crack open a book now and then to make sure your brain doesn't deteriorate. Plus, the summer is stretching invitingly before you — and we both know you don't have a real job yet. 

Some of these books pinpoint that specific feeling of post-grad ennui; others provide fiery inspiration; and some are just really useful for navigating a post-grad life. They pair perfectly with a glass of Mom-made lemonade and a feeling of infinite possibility that's occasionally tempered by a stabbing pain at how terrifying the world is. You'll get through it. These books will help.

1. The Marriage Plot by Jeffery Eugenides

The ultimate post-grad novel. This book covers everything from not wanting to finish your thesis to feeling embarrassed by how normal you are in a school full of brilliant intellectual freaks to making huge mistakes in the summer after senior year. 

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2. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Wondering how you and your bohemian friends will all turn out? Hopefully not like this! This novel follows a bunch of narcissistic teens into an adulthood full of career drama, questionable relationship choices, and plenty of fake artsy behavior. 

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3. The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

Warning: this novel will make you want to move to Paris and drink endless martinis. And hey, if you can swing that post-grad life, more power to you. The protagonist of The Dud Avocado whirls around the City of Light in a flurry of cocktails and bad romance, never quite losing her joie de vivre, which is an easy thing to do in the real world — even if your "real world" is Paris. 

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4. What Color is My Parachute? by Richard N. Bolles

Yeah, your dad has been telling you to read this for the past four years, but now that you're kinda sorta regretting your college major, it's time to buckle down and just read the thing already. Maybe you'll find out what color your parachute is. Never say never. Just say yes. Remove "no" from your vocabulary. (Sorry, but these are the sorts of inane aphorisms people will tell you when you complain about the job search so you better get used to hearing them now.)

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5. The Beautiful and the Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hey! After college, what if you just got married and spent money like it was going out of style and made a ton of major life mistakes? This novel will answer all these questions for you! Warning: contains lots of gin-drinking and buying expensive clothes on credit.

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6. Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer OR On the Road by Jack Kerouac

If you haven't read either of these books, now's the time to do so. Yeah, they've both hardened into cliches, but it's important to figure out if the free-wheeling life is for you now, before you accidentally go to law school. Plus, both books will leave you a little distrustful of the Man, which isn't a bad way to start your job search.

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7. Adulting by Kelly Williams Brown

Sometimes you just need to know how to do things. This book wants to help.

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8.  Some of Joan Didion's essays

You should probably start with Slouching Towards Bethlehem or The White Albumbut even if you just read a random essay here or there, Didion's sharp eye for both inward revelation and outward observation will make the "life lessons" you've been "learning" on Girls look incredibly shallow.

9. A bio of someone you really love

Biographies have a whiff of "assigned reading" that they really don't deserve, because they're an incredibly rich source of inspiration. Finding how someone you really love lived their life — whether it's an artist, an activist, or a computer engineer — can be better fuel for your own life than the biggest how-to book.

10. The Gift by Lewis Hyde

This book was written for "artists," but the theories inside apply to anyone — potters and musicians and parents and hedge fund managers alike. It's not a quick read, but Hyde's careful breakdown of the cycle of contribution and consumption, giving back and paying forward, result in what's basically a formula for living a beautiful life.  

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11. Self-Help by Lorrie Moore

You wanna laugh, you wanna cry, you wanna feel like someone else is as zany and obsessive as you are? Lorrie Moore has your back. These short stories might not make you feel better, but they'll make you feel less alone. 

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