Books That’ll Get Grads Ready For The Real World

You did it! You made it to (most of) your classes, you studied late into the night, and you’re about to march across a stage in a billowy robe and grab that diploma. Congratulations and enjoy every second of it. Because eventually you’ll find yourself scanning for jobs, wondering what’s next, and contemplating the meaning of life and the price of a latte. Welcome to your new reality.

Maybe you’ve already read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In four times and you landed a dream job before graduation, but most people experience some growing pains right after college graduation. After all, that’s what every single season of HBO’s Girls is about — screwing up, flailing around, and trying to find your footing in the "real world."

You’ll likely get a ton of advice from parents, teachers, older siblings, and random strangers on the street once you graduate. They’ll tell you that your career is a marathon, not a sprint (that’s true). You’ll hear about hard work and saving up for retirement and enjoying your youth while you can. But, as Andy Samberg said in a Harvard graduation speech back in 2012: “It’s hard to know where life will take you from here, what adventures you’ll have, which sitcoms you’ll write for, but my advice to you is simple. Relax.”

If you forget every other piece of post-grad advice, just remember that one: Relax. You’ll be fine. If you do need a little more encouragement, here are 12 books that might just inspire you in the days and months after graduation:

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown

Adulting is based on Brown’s popular blog, and it’s a hilarious, relatable how-to guide with tips about fixing things in your apartment, breaking up with frenemies, dealing with office hookups, and finding a mechanic who won’t rob you blind. Funny and helpful.

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Bossypants by Tina Fey

This is the comedic Lean In. If you’ve already read Fey’s hysterical memoir but you’re in need of a pep talk and some laughs, read it again. Fey offers up wise and funny advice about relationships, career, friendships, and beauty, such as: “If you retain nothing else, always remember the most important rule of beauty, which is: who cares?” Feel free to underline as many passages as you want.

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Graduates in Wonderland: The International Misadventures of Two (Almost) Adults by Jessica Pan and Rachel Kapelke-Dale

The writers met at Brown their freshman year and in Graduates in Wonderland they document their post-grad lives. It’s a funny, touching, and honest look at life in your 20s, when you’re roaming around trying to figure it all out.

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The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe

This novel shocked people when it was published back in 1958, probably because stories about women doing anything but baking pies and having babies were considered offensive back then. It’s about five women in their 20s working for a publisher in Manhattan — their hopes, their dreams, their crushes, and their struggles. It’ll probably hit close to home, even though it was written way back when.

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Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

This one is a collection of installments taken from Strayed’s popular Dear Sugar column for The Rumpus, and it’s full of advice and anecdotes that’ll make your post-grad mania seem manageable. It covers love, sex, work, death, and everything in between. And if you haven’t been listening to the new Dear Sugar podcast with Strayed and Steve Almond, press play immediately.

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F*ck! I’m in my Twenties by Emma Koenig

The title kind of says it all. The book has lots of handy charts and graphs and doodles to help you navigate life in your twenties. She covers everything from dating to unemployment to the meaning of life. Good if you want a quick read.

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Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou

On the opposite side of the spectrum, you can soak in some wise, eloquent, enlightening words from the late Maya Angelou. She never had a daughter, but through this book Angelou is speaking to all women, really, as if they were her daughters. If you need a reality check and a lesson in compassion, this is worth the read.

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The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy

A classic coming-of-age/I-have-no-clue-what-to-do-with-my-life tale. Young, beautiful, lost American Sally Jay Gorce travels to Paris in the 1950s to have adventures and trip through ill-fated romances. Gore Vidal called it “One of the funniest books I’ve ever read,” Lena Dunham recommended it in Vogue, and legendary comedian Groucho Marx said, “It made me laugh, scream, and guffaw.” I mean, what more do you need?

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When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For the Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön

So The Dud Avocado and Bossypants made you laugh, but you’re in need of some Zen healing. It’s time to cultivate peace and tranquility and keep those panic attacks at bay. Chodron’s writing isn’t your garden-variety, cornball self-help mumbo jumbo. Her words are guaranteed to soothe your soul and ease your stress. “The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves,” she writes. See?

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Free Food For Millionaires by Min Jin Lee

Casey Han graduates from Princeton (with the help of scholarships) and finds herself jobless, confused, and surrounded by trust-fund buddies. It’s a novel about identity, family, and that age-old quest: Figuring out who the hell you are.

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Stevie Nicks: Visions, Dreams & Rumors by Zoe Howe

This might not be a book about a mid-20s existential crisis and the trials and tribulations of working in a cubicle, but Nicks is a goddess, a sorceress, and a queen, so it’s a good one to read when you want to be inspired by one of the greats.

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Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business by Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton may as well be a guru. She’s whip-smart (don’t let that bubbly persona fool you), funny as hell, and her homespun Southern wisdom is a must for anyone who’s feeling a little lost.

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On that note, good luck, start strong, congratulations, and remember these words from the one and only Dolly Parton: “You'll never do a whole lot unless you're brave enough to try.”