It’s always a challenge to select the perfect graduation gift. (Do kids these days even use pen sets?) Books to the rescue! With their mix of advice, humor and encouragement, any entry in this quartet would make a thoughtful gift for those about to leap into the real world.

YOUR FUTURE LIES AHEAD
Anyone who’s delivered a graduation speech, or listened to one, or hopes to make one someday—so, pretty much everyone—will enjoy Everything is Going to Be Okay. This quirky illustrated book sprang from the clever mind and skillful pen of Bruce Eric Kaplan (BEK), perhaps best known for his witty single-panel cartoons for The New Yorker. He’s also served as a writer for “Six Feet Under” and “Seinfeld” and written seven other books. Two of his earlier tales feature Edmund and Rosemary, a loving and lovably neurotic Brooklyn couple. In Everything is Going to Be Okay, the duo has a new challenge: Edmund’s been asked to make a college graduation speech, but he worries he won’t be able to come up with anything interesting or meaningful. It’s not helping that the cat is silently judging him, someone’s already talked about the places people will go, and he has an irresistible urge to extra-thoroughly clean their apartment. Rosemary eventually gets Edmund to just write the speech, and off they go to the college. Despite intense nervousness, Edmund launches into his talk, which goes swimmingly—and then takes an unexpected turn . . . actually, a lot of longer-than-expected turns. The book is funny throughout, but it’s here that Kaplan makes evident his gift for finding (and creating) humor and sweetness at the intersection of quotidian and profound. Just as Edmund and Rosemary send off the graduates with a sense of possibility and well-being, so, too, will readers turn the last page of Everything is Going to Be Okay.


READY, SET, GO!
Jenny Blake knows about post-college life because she’s experienced it twice: first, when she took a leave of absence from UCLA in her junior year, and again when she returned to UCLA two years later to finish her degree and graduate with the class of 2005. She’s been a career development program manager and internal coach at Google since 2006, and she launched LifeAfterCollege.org in 2007. Now, she offers the lessons she has learned in Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want. Blake confides that, while she’s always been a go-getter (she finished college in three years with a double major and honors, while working full-time beginning at age 20), she found herself exhausted at age 25 and unsure what she wanted to do next. She writes, “I finally . . . took steps to figure out what I wanted, and who I really was under the shiny veneer of achievement.” The author urges readers to view the book not as a narrative meant to be read beginning to end, but as a sourcebook that can be used to find specific information (on, say, taxes or etiquette or health) or thought-provoking exercises to help establish long-term goals. Advice from college graduates, tidbits from Twitter and quotes from famous figures make for interesting, quick reads, and “Jenny’s Tips” address seemingly every question that might cross a graduate’s mind, regarding work, money, home, family, dating, health and plenty more. This guide will prove at once useful, inspiring and reassuring for graduates who are ready to embark on an exciting new phase of life but aren’t quite sure where or how to begin.


THE SAVVY SECRETARY
Lynn Peril has long been thinking and writing about women in history and pop culture; she’s the author of Pink Think: Becoming a Woman in Many Uneasy Lessons and College Girls: Bluestockings, Sex Kittens and Coeds, Then and Now. This time around, she takes on the workplace in Swimming in the Steno Pool: A Retro Guide to Making It in the Office. There are some four million secretaries in the United States, Peril writes, and she’s been one for 20 years, even as she published a zine, got a graduate degree and wrote books. But despite the accomplishments of office-workers everywhere—who include writers, artists, filmmakers, parents, entrepreneurs and future executives—there remain certain stereotypes regarding the secretary role: “husband-hunting, pencil-pushing, coffee-getting, dumb-bunny, sex-bomb.” Peril chronicles and questions those assumptions and offers up myriad snippets of secretary-centric history, including newspaper articles, advertisements and anecdotes. Fans of vintage fashion and ephemera (not to mention the TV show “Mad Men”) will delight in the plentiful visuals, many of which are hilariously sexist by today’s standards. Sidebars include “Wife versus Secretary (1936)” and “Pants in the Office.” Peril notes that secretarial schools, shorthand and formal dress codes have gone by the wayside, even as new avenues are opening up via the virtual-assistant role. Graduates curious about the evolution of women in the workplace will find plenty to think about here, as will those who decide that they, too, are administratively inclined.


FIGURING IT ALL OUT
Graduation is one of many occasions sure to inspire the big question: “What does it all mean?” In Driving with Plato: The Meaning of Life’s Milestones, author Robert Rowland Smith examines the big moments we humans have in common—from Taking Exams and Casting Your First Vote to Moving House and Retiring. Smith expands on the formula that made his Breakfast with Socrates: An Extraordinary (Philosophical) Journey Through Your Ordinary Day popular by viewing grand milestones (as opposed to everyday ones) through the lens of philosophy. This appealing, readable and thought-provoking mashup of musings touches on everything from virginity (Madonna’s “Like a Virgin,” the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Christ and Leonardo da Vinci are cited) to the midlife crisis (Nietzsche, menopause, Greek myths, gray hair). Through it all, Driving with Plato offers an excellent framework for sizing up what’s vital. Those who worry that staying up until 3:00 a.m. discussing the meaning of life might be an activity limited to their college years will find this book handy for inciting just those sorts of free-wheeling conversations any time (and anywhere). As Smith writes, “Yes, to philosophize is to learn how to die, as Montaigne said, but it’s also to learn how to live.”

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