An honest list of books to buy your college graduate

Posted by Jason Diamond

I like where GOOD was going with their list of books for college grads.  Telling people to steer clear of anything “Chicken Soup” or Malcolm Gladwell is a good start, and if anybody would have handed me a copy of David Foster Wallace’s Oblivion: Stories after I took that diploma into my hand, then maybe I wouldn’t have felt so bad about the next decade of my life being spent in post-university financial hell.

But really, who’s gonna give their graduating senior a copy of The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama?  He’s a great guy, and I’m a huge fan of his work, but if  I walk past that scene, I’m slapping that book out of the exchanging hands, and I’m marching that newly minted adult to the nearest bookstore, and getting them to plop down their parents Visa to purchase the following books to teach them about what life off the family range might have in store for them.

1. Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell

So your young graduate doesn’t want to be a cubicle slave?  He/she has artistic tendencies and wants to go to the local Art Institute.  Your kid doesn’t want to wear a tie to a job, and you know they look down on you because you’ve spent your life climbing that corporate ladder to provide for their spoiled ass.

You know what you need to do?  Plop this Orwell title in front of that little bohemian bastard, and give them a sour dose of reality.  They think they understand politics because they read Animal Farm during their sophomore year?  That’s great.  Teach them what it’s going to be like to spend the next few years bussing tables full of half-eaten plates of food that they won’t be able to afford, and making skinny, decaf skinny lattes for the corporate chumps that they abhor.

2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy

There’s actually a pretty good chance that your kids maybe read this or at the very least, saw the film.  If not, let them know that if the Mayan calendar running out does signal the end of civilization as we know it, the bad economy will be the least of the worries, and McCarthy’s classic might come in really handy.

3. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

If the world doesn’t end up ending, Steinbeck’s story of the Joads might be a good book to give them with the front cover inscribed with something like “We’re paying for your college education.  Please don’t fuck this up.  If we go down in financial flames so you can barely hand in your papers because you’re too hungover, we’re taking you with us.”

4.  You Can’t Win by Jack Black

Teach them while they’re still young.

5. The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever

Give this to them to expose them to the genius of Cheever, but also for the story “O City of Broken Dreams.”  Let them know what happens when people try to give it a go in the big city.  Be honest with them that moving far away is nothing but pain and misery.