This Is Water by David Foster Wallace
Perfect for: All grads
Here's why: David Foster Wallace only delivered one commencement address in his career (in 2005, at Kenyon College), and his message was so enduring that the entire speech was published in hardcover. What's unique about Wallace's words: Though he warns graduates of the banalities of day-to-day adult life, he reminds them that their newly acquired skills can help them maintain awareness and compassion as they move forward in their quest for success.
Quotable quote: "It is about simple awareness—awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, that we have to keep reminding ourselves, over and over: 'This is water, this is water.'"
Bounce by Matthew Syed
Perfect for: Both artists and athletes
Here's why: In this optimistic guide to success, U.K. Table Tennis champion Syed combines detailed research with his own anecdotes to backhand the myth that talent is solely based on genetics. In studying the accomplishments of great artists, composers, and athletes, Syed finds they had one thing in common: hours, and hours, and hours of practice—no really, about 10,000 hours each.
Quotable quote: "Asked if he was lucky, golfer Gary Player said: 'Yes, and the funny thing is, the harder I practice, the luckier I get."
The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
Perfect for: The stressed over-thinker (Hoff) and the bored under-thinker (Pirsig)
Here's why: In citing the beloved adventures of everyone's favorite willy-nilly-silly-old bear, Hoff illustrates Taoism's principles of living simply, serenely, and free of unrealistic expectation. Meanwhile, deep thoughts and life lessons are cleverly disguised in Pirsig's story of a father and son's cross-country motorcycle trip, preparing graduates (and all of us) for the challenges of the modern world.
Quotable quote (Hoff): "When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to youself?" "What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?" "I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet. Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.
Quotable quote (Pirsig): "Is it hard?" "Not if you have the right attitudes. It's having the right attitudes that's hard."
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Perfect for: Writers, readers ... heck, any word nerd
Here's why: Part memoir, part craft guide, On Writing is an invaluable invitation into the mind of one of the most successful writers of all time. Assuming they saved their copy of The Elements of Style from freshman composition, your word-minded grads will be hard-pressed to find a book more useful than Stephen King's deeply personal, endlessly quotable guide to writing "anything you damn well want."
Quotable quote: "The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
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The Money Book for the Young, Fabulous, and Broke by Suze Orman
Perfect for: The next wave of entrepreneurs
Here's why: Roth IRAs may be less fun than a stuffed bear in a cap and a gown, but grads will be grateful for financial adviser Suze Orman, who brings her no-nonsense approach to some of the most pressing money questions young graduates face in our tough economy: when to pay off loans, how to start investing in retirement, and how to create a livable budget. Watch the savings grow.
Quotable quote: “You have been dealt a tough hand, and that requires getting an early jump on your retirement savings, because your best friend right now is time.
You Are Not a Gadget by Jaron Lanier
Perfect for: The techie
Here's why: Though often heady and complex, this book about present and future technologies talks about being mindful, moving against the flow, and challenging the world around you so that it can become something better. "You have to be somebody before you can share yourself," writes the author; those are wise words for any graduate on Facebook. Because with great (computing) power comes great responsibility.
Quotable quote: "“What these critics forget is that printing presses in themselves provide no guarantee of an enlightened outcome. People, not machines, made the Renaissance."