15 books to give for graduation that graduates will actually want to read

15 books to give for graduation that graduates will actually want to read

No matter the occasion, avid readers are likely to think a book is the perfect gift. And with graduation season looming on the horizon, it’s no wonder we’ve received myriad requests for an updated list of graduation gift books that graduates will actually appreciate.

Graduation season may be upon us, but it’s a different kind of graduation season this year. It’s hard to wrap my mind around what it must feel like to graduate with no formal ceremony—and I’m not the one graduating so I can only imagine how they feel. For those of us with graduates in our lives, we can still acknowledge and celebrate their achievement by sending cards and gifts, and we’ll look forward to celebrating in person in the future.

We readers love to give books—which is always fabulous, but especially now, when bookstores could really benefit from your business—but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly which books will actually be appreciated by the people we’re giving them to. We’re here to help: we’ve gathered fifteen titles that high school and college graduates are likely to actually read, enjoy, and maybe even apply to their lives.

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15 books graduates will actually want to read
You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

You Learn by Living: Eleven Keys for a More Fulfilling Life

Roosevelt penned this book—part memoir, part advice manual—in 1960, when she was 76 years old. It's striking how fresh and wise her insight seems today, over fifty years later. Roosevelt offers an interesting perspective on history, unique insights into her life (which contained a surprising amount of personal tragedy), and a good bit of wisdom you might just apply to your own life. More info →
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Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

For years, Cheryl Strayed wrote an advice column for TheRumpus.net called "Dear Sugar." Strayed wrote anonymously—to her readers she was only "Sugar"—and she answered likewise anonymous letters about love and romance, grief and loss, money and family troubles. To call these "columns" seems to sell them short: these are beautiful, heartfelt, brutally honest essays that go in directions you don't expect. Strayed gives them gentle advice while not pulling any punches, but says her real mission isn't to tell letter writers what they "should" do, but instead reveal a third way by presenting a perspective that those who write can't see on their own, or to explore what's really going on in their life and situation. Heads up: this has a hefty f-bomb count and triggers galore. More info →
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Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

Author:
This inspirational memoir's epigraph bears quotes from Maya Angelou and Christina from Grey's Anatomy, which gives you a good idea of what you'll find inside. Rhimes is the queen of Thursday night tv, creating and producing smash hits like Grey's and Scandal. This time she's telling her own story of how her sister issued her a six-word wake-up call—You never say yes to anything—and the year of YES that followed. I saw parts of myself all over this and absolutely loved the last chapter when the author discovers what her big year was really about. More info →
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In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs

Author:
You can't beat this lavishly illustrated compendium from Design Sponge founder Grace Bonney for creative inspiration. The book profiles 100 women of diverse ages, races, and industries—restauranteurs, chefs, potters, television hosts, designers, photographers, choreographers—photographing them in their workspaces, and sharing stories from their lives and businesses. The best kind of career inspiration, in a display-worthy volume. More info →
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The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World

This book brings readers into a conversation between longtime friends Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, both of whom are known for being infectiously happy. They discuss finding joy and happiness in the face of suffering and grief and how we can bring that joy to others. Wise, touching, and insightful. More info →
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Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Step

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy(ish) Step

This is the rare find that is entertaining, funny, and super practical for a college graduate. Brown offers tips and advice on everything from what to check when renting an apartment to how to maintain meaningful relationships as an adult to how to fix a toilet. More info →
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1,000 Places to See Before You Die

1,000 Places to See Before You Die

992 pages, 1000 destinations, tons of inspiration, whether you're planning or daydreaming. TIME.com said "[1,000 Places to See Before You Die] has joined the canon of classic reference tomes that earn cozy homes on the bookshelf next to the thesaurus." I especially like that many of these destinations aren't typical tourist locales. More info →
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The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter–And How to Make the Most of Them Now

Author:
Whether you're approaching twenty, are in your twenties, or have ever been twenty, Jay provides a fascinating look at what's so important about these years. High school and college grads alike will want to pick this up because Jay makes it clear she's on their side, and she's telling them things they need to know. Well-written, heavily researched, story-driven, and absolutely inspiring. This is one of my favorites, and would also make an excellent gift for the parents of grads. More info →
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I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life

I’d Rather Be Reading: The Delights and Dilemmas of the Reading Life

Author:
My essay collection will delight the book lovers on your list, and it’s size and price point make it a perfect gift for friends, teachers, or your book club pals. I'd Rather Be Reading leads readers to remember the book that first hooked them, the place where they first fell in love with reading, and all of the moments afterward that helped make them the reader they are today. More info →
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Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say

Kelly talks in depth about how after her friend Liz was diagnosed with cancer, they both pushed past the surface stuff to forge a powerful and enduring friendship. Her twelve phrases give us a good starting point for figuring out how to improve communication skills with loved ones. Personal, heartfelt, and really really good. More info →
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1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List

1,000 Books to Read Before You Die: A Life-Changing List

Author:
This fun doorstop of a collection (and I say that with affection) will help people of all ages ensure they have a well-rounded reading life. It includes titles I expected (all six Austen novels) and titles I didn't (Make Way for Ducklings, Into Thin Air, The Hunt for Red October). There are numerous shorter reading lists, thorough indexes, and a checklist so you can see how many on the list you have read. I chatted with Mustich in episode 165 of What Should I Read Next?. More info →
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Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You

Lin-Manuel Miranda has long tweeted short, inspirational messages to his followers at the beginning and end of each day. This collection pairs the best of his greetings with illustrations by Jonny Sun. It makes for a great pick-me-up. From the publisher: "Before he inspired the world with Hamilton and was catapulted to international fame, Lin-Manuel Miranda was inspiring his Twitter followers with words of encouragement at the beginning and end of each day. He wrote these original sayings, aphorisms, and poetry for himself as much as for others. But as Miranda's audience grew, these messages took on a life on their own. Now Miranda has gathered the best of his daily greetings into a collection. Full of comfort and motivation, Gmorning, Gnight! is a touchstone for anyone who needs a quick lift." More info →
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Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style

Long-time copy chief Benjamin Dreyer schools us all on the ins and outs of grammar. For everyone who wants to write better, a fresh (and often snarky) take on how to write. More info →
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The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations

Author:
Toni Morrison might be known for her fiction but her nonfiction is just as worth reading. This collection includes meditations, her takes on much debated issues, and commentary on other works. It offers a new perspective on an esteemed writer but also invites readers to see the world in a different light, leaving them better for it. More info →
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Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly

Author:
This isn't exactly a color-coded handbook for life, but it's as close as I'm going to get. Packed full with lofty ideals plus practical examples of how to show up—always imperfectly—in our own lives and engage with the world from a place of worthiness. Everyone should read this once. More info →
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What books here have you read and loved? Do you enjoy giving books as gifts? We’d love to hear what books YOU are planning to give to the graduates in your life. Please tell us below!

P.S. 11 books for figuring out what to do with the rest of your life, and how graduates are like blackberries on the vine.

15 books graduates will actually want to read

22 comments | Comment

22 comments

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  1. Gordon P says:

    Another one that you might even get young men to read is “Make Your Bed: Little things that can change your life…and maybe the world” by former SEAL Admiral William McRaven. An expansion on his viral commencement address at the University of Texas several years ago–it has a lot of great and simple wisdom for all of us.

  2. Olivia Sporinsky says:

    Love Does by Bob Goff. It’s a Christian slant, but overall it’s a good book about how love is a catalyst for change.

    • Debi Morton j says:

      I’m just finishing this, and I’m loving it. I’ve been reading a chapter or two right before I go to sleep, and I lay down with a smile on my face. Goff makes me think and laugh.

  3. Julie Majors says:

    I loved the Next Right Thing, as well — but also the book that came to mind was the classic “How to Win Friends and Influence People”… puts flesh on the Golden Rule – to put others before self. It has positively impacted how I see and interact with the world.

  4. Rachael says:

    I didn’t get any books as gifts for graduation, though I would have prized them. I echo the recommendations of The Book of Joy and I’d Rather be Reading. I would also add Someday, Someday Maybe and Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham. One is a novel about the importance of giving your dreams a chance while maintaining personal integrity. The other is an essay collection which works best when it touches on those themes. Which it does, extensively.

  5. Ruth says:

    The Defining Decade was such a good source for me as a parent of a graduating college senior and a college 1st year. I was evening referring to it as my daughter graduated from high school. It definitely helped me advise my older kids and helped them to plan out their college and post college careers.

  6. Linda Pappas says:

    I loved “The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World”, by Melinda Gates. I gave it to many people, including three young women who graduated last year.

  7. Sheri R. says:

    Gifts from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a beautifully written book that I just re-read after many years and I think would be an inspiring gift for a young woman.

  8. Denise Sande says:

    I gift The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. It is over a decade old but still relatable to young women and men.

  9. Stacy says:

    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller is an excellent book for a graduate who isn’t sure what to do next – it’s about telling a good story with your life. For Christians, Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper and the updated My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers are great grad gifts (I received both for my high school graduation and still revisit them periodically).

  10. dolores a urato says:

    THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU !!!!! AWESOME LIST…….HAVE GRADUATES AND VERY APPRECIATIVE FOR THIS ARTICLE…….BUT ESPECIALLY YOU !!! BLESSINGS dolores

  11. Cheryl Alsippi says:

    What a unique list. Great for gifts and even several I’d like to read myself. I just added 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die to my list. Thanks

  12. Julie Schuler says:

    I’d go with anything Bob Goff touches, as well as the charmingly illustrated version of Neil Gaiman’s Make Great Art commencement speech. It’s best to watch the speech first, so when you read it in book form you can hear his voice in your head.

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