Congratulations, college grad! You have completed a life stage! No more subsisting on mac and cheese and kale, studying until your eyeballs have fallen out and rolled on to your PBR-stained carpet, and figuring out what you want to do for the rest of your life. I’m only half-kidding about that last one, because nobody really knows what they want to do for the rest of their lives until they’re doing it. If you’re reading this and you’re totally scared about your blurry future, it’s okay. Most people are after they graduate college, an institution that tries its best to prepare you for real life but can’t, for many reasons. Of course it’s up to you to figure things out, but don’t stress. Everything will be okay. You will be amazing. In the meantime, it’s summer, and it may be the last summer you get to fully enjoy. Maybe you don’t have a 9-5, 40-hour-a-week job yet, and if that’s the case, take these next two months to work on yourself. Go running. Light candles in your bedroom. Write in your diary every day. I know you’re busy job-searching, but these things are important, too.
When I say “work on yourself,” I don’t mean travel to India with only three shirts and $200 (although if you really want to and can, then go for it!). What I’m talking about is coming to terms with who you are, and who you want to be. Because that’s so, so important if you have big life goals you want to meet as an adult. What can help here? Books. Just because you’re through with school, doesn’t mean you should stop educating yourself. Never stop educating yourself. Here are some important reads that will help you ease into your new adult life, as well as some classics you just seriously need to read, like, right now.
1. Cherry by Mary Karr
Cherry takes you into the fantastic mind of Mary Karr, poet, novelist, and wild woman who grew up in East Texas with an adoring, but alcoholic father and a mother with abandoning issues. This memoir journeys through Karr’s childhood, through her sexually awakening and teen-hood, all the way to her turbulent adult years. Why read a book about someone else’s crazy life? Because it beautifully and inspiringly shows that not everyone takes a standard road. I would also recommend this book for the sake of Karr’s prose, especially if you want to become a writer.
2. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Oh my god. I love Dear Sugar. So much. If you’ve never read any of her columns, take some time to catch up, or just jump right into Tiny Beautiful Things, because wisdom has no time frame. Cheryl Strayed once wrote anonymously on The Rumpus, giving very real advice to people who asked her questions about relationships, careers, money, writing, family, and everything in between. This book a culmination of all this and more.
3. Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith
Don’t worry, this book of poetry is nothing like the Norton anthology you probably skimmed in your Intro to Poetry class. I mean, it borrows from some of those stickler forms, but Smith’s work is refreshingly beautiful and different. Life on Mars is this careful look at existence that will make you think.
4. An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
I’ve been following Roxane Gay’s work on the Internet for a few years, from The Rumpus, to her online zine, PANK. This lady is unstoppable. Her first novel, An Untamed State is just a book you NEED to read while you have the time to fully absorb it. This novel is about a woman’s strength and the before and after of a terrifying event. Read it.
5. If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? By Kurt Vonnegut
Not satisfied with your graduation speaker? I wasn’t either. The now ex-CEO of Baskin Robbins spoke at my college and made some kind of huge, drawn out metaphor about babbling brooks. It was terrible, and I was pissed. But a couple years later, I bought this collection of graduation speeches by Kurt Vonnegut and all was right with the world. Also, the guy just has some damn good advice.
6. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
My family, like Lahiri’s fictional families, are immigrants who chose America over their motherland due to better opportunities. So, this book deeply resonated with me, because it’s not like there were any clubs in high-school or college for First Generation Russian Daughters (I mean, maybe, but certainly not at my college). Reading these beautiful stories made me feel warm and comforted. And you don’t even need a foreign family to love this book (although you’re welcome to borrow mine anytime); this collection of stories can apply to anyone and everyone.
7. The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
I’ll admit, this is no Middlesex or Virgin Suicides, but I really liked it. Set in the ‘80s, this story is about Madeleine Hanna, a Classics major who falls in love with Leonard Bankhead (a character modeled on David Foster Wallace) who is bipolar and, how shall I put this? Not a very reliable boyfriend. This is an awesome novel that touches upon modern love, feminism, marriage, sexual freedom, and all those intimidating realities that belong to young adulthood.
8. The Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
You really need to be in the right mindset for this read. Like, away from your phone and Facebook and other humans. Zen and Art is a story, rather, a story within a story within a story. Pirsig narrates his cross-country bike trip with his son, his career as a professor, and a time in life when he basically went crazy. Moreover, it’s a book on how to live—how to live better, and more meaningfully.
9. A Confederacy of Dunces by John K. Toole
Ignatius J. Reilly is a riot. He’s also a terrible human being, he’s mean to his mother, he has an inflated sense of self, and he’s lazy. As unsympathetic as he is as a character, it’s interesting as well as hilarious to see society through the perspective of an incredibly flawed person. Read this for high-brow giggles.
10. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan
You may have spent your college years eating bargain pasta and pb&js, but pretty soon, you will be making enough money to fully stock your fridge with all kinds of nutritious things, like almond butter and asparagus. Since your body really is your temple, do read up on what you should put in it. Pollan is a reliable and accessible authority on food, so I totally recommend this book (as well as his others).
11. The Girls from Corona Del Mar by Rufi Thorpe
The Girls from Corona del Mar JUST came out (July 8th), so read it before everyone else does! I like this book a lot. The older and older I get (I mean, I’m not very old, but still), I feel more of a disconnect with my friends and people I used to know well. I don’t know. It just happens. You start working, you move to a different city, and suddenly you’re just not living the same life with the same people. It’s sad, but it’s normal. That’s why I like to keep books like these around, to remind me that relationships are very real and meaningful and important.