Congratulations, college graduate! You survived multiple years of caffeine-addled studying, instant ramen, and being dragged to your friends' a cappella concerts. Take a moment to feel proud of all that you've accomplished! You're amazing! And now that moment is over, and you need to find a job and a purpose and a way out of all that debt. Yikes. But don't panic! Instead of giving in to existential terror, pick up a book and start that next phase of your life. Here are a few books that every new grad should read as they enter the "real world."
I'm not going to pretend that reading these books will instantly cure you of all your post-grad anxieties. Reading won't ensure that you get your dream job, or find the love of your life, or save up enough avocado toasts to buy a house (I thought that we couldn't afford houses because of the gig economy and crippling student debt, but it turns out that it was the luxury of eating smashed fruit on bread).
But reading these books will give the perspective and the courage that you need to get out there and try anyway. So if you're holding that diploma and wondering what to do now, here are a few books that might help:
1'Very Good Lives' by J.K. Rowling
If you're graduating this year, there's a good chance that you grew up with the Harry Potter books. And if you grew up with the Harry Potter books, then reading J.K. Rowling's words on embracing failure and using your imagination to live better will probably make you cry (despite all of her recent George Lucas-ing of her own books). Very Good Lives is short but deeply affecting, and it'll inspire you to go out there and fail at some things yourself.
2'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath
I know that The Bell Jar has a rather dark and depressing reputation—but don't let that scare you away. It's a book about struggling with depression, yes, but it's also a book about struggling with identity, burgeoning adulthood, and recovering from trauma. It's about finding your way as a woman in a world that hates women. And Plath has some very funny, all too relatable things to say about internships (which apparently have not changed since the 1950s).
3'If This Isn’t Nice, What Is?' by Kurt Vonnegut
Kurt Vonnegut may have authored some truly pessimistic science fiction in his day, but he also gave a number of dry, humorous, genuinely uplifting graduation speeches. He's uniquely gifted at telling it like it is in a way that makes you feel better. As Vonnegut puts it, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
4'Bad Feminist' by Roxane Gay
In college, it's easy to run around reading theory, telling ourselves that we will all be perfect feminists and advocates and allies to everyone forever. But, as Roxane Gay knows, life gets messy. Bad Feminist is a sharp, hilarious, insightful series of essays about feminism, culture, and the ways in which we could all be better bad feminists.
5'The Namesake' by Jhumpa Lahiri
College is often the time when we start defining ourselves separately from our parents (like changing your name from "Gogol Ganguli" to literally anything else). The Namesake is a story of growing up, reconciling your past with your present, bumbling through a series of failed relationships, and suddenly realizing that your parents are human people, too. It's a good read at any stage of life, but if you're about to move back in with your folks after four years of freedom, it's a must read.
6'F*ck! I'm in My Twenties' by Emma Koenig
Sometimes you just need a series of extremely relatable doodles to remind you that you are not alone in sobbing over Craigslist job postings or going on lots of terrible dates. A lot of other young people are just as confused as you. F*ck! I'm in My Twenties will make the vortex of your 20's slightly more bearable, now that you can't use your status as a college student to ignore all of your personal failings.
7'This is Water' by David Foster Wallace
Love him or hate him, David Foster Wallace gives one hell of a commencement address. This is Water won't necessarily inspire you to rush out into the world and do great things. Instead, it will remind you to appreciate the not-so-great minutiae of life. Whether you go on to be wildly successful in your chosen field or not, you're going to need Wallace's words to get you through the line at the grocery store with your sanity intact.
8'A Little Life' by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Life is devastating (but in a good way). Four college classmates move to New York to start their new lives: broke, confused, and united in their ambition. Of course, as we follow these four characters into adulthood, their lives grow increasingly complex, and one man finds himself haunted by a trauma that refuses to fade away. If you're looking for something a little darker than the typical commencement address, try this truly affecting book on for size.
9'Letter to My Daughter' by Maya Angelou
Spoiler alert: Maya Angelou never had a daughter. You are her daughter! This book is for you! And she has some advice for you, about how to live a life with meaning. If you've ever read one of Angelou's autobiographies, then you already know that she has a lot of varied life experience to draw from. This book is something between a guide to life, a poetry book, and a memoir, but whatever it is, it'll inspire you to be a better person by the time you're done reading.