One of the best parts about bookselling is handselling, which is when someone comes in looking not for a specific book, but a good book for a category: "For my thirteen-year-old nephew," or "for my friend's twin girls who are turning 2" (both were handsells yesterday). It's fun because it's when you get to put all your great reader skills to work as a bookseller—what's good in this genre? What follows well on other things that person has liked? What are the obscure, but cool books that the person otherwise might not pick up?
This time of year, I'm doing a lot of handselling of graduation gifts. It may be a little late for some, but in the interest of helping folks who may have a graduation party or two coming up, I thought I'd talk about my five favorite graduation books (and no, none of them are OH THE PLACES YOU'LL GO).
1. HOW TO COOK EVERYTHING, THE BASICS by Mark Bittman. I'd been reading a home blog all through my undergrad years, and so when I graduated, I wanted the original HTCE (we won't mention how many years that's been out, just in case). HTCE and HTCE: Vegetarian are veritable encyclopedias of cooking knowledge and recipes. For a long time, the full HTCE was my go-to graduation gift. But in the last two years, Bittman published HTCE: The Basics, which makes an even sharper gift for someone just venturing away from Mom and/or the college cafeteria. It explains all the basic techniques of cooking, and gives a number of easy, healthful recipes to try, and it has photos and fewer pages, which make it a much less intimidating tome than the full HTCE.
2. NICE GIRLS DON'T GET THE CORNER OFFICE, by Lois Frankel. This book should be handed out along with diplomas to every woman entering the workforce, in my opinion. While lately LEAN IN has been all the rage, this one is much more tactical. It's full of small things that girls are socialized to do differently than boys that hinder them in their careers—everything from asking permission for things to leaving trailing voicemails. I first listened to this book on tape eight years ago, and I still often turn to it when I'm on a long drive and see something new.
3. THE MONEY BOOK FOR THE YOUNG, FABULOUS, AND BROKE, by Suze Orman. When I handsold this to a couple, the man in the couple described Orman as "smarmy," and I suppose he's right. At the same time, this is the best finance book for people in their teens and twenties, particularly those who are graduating into the recession. Advice to save money by just not going to Starbucks or eating out as often doesn't work when the person is too broke to go to Starbucks in the first place. This book addresses *that* reality, and takes people from good debt management to financial planning for home purchases and the like and everything in between.
4. 36 Hours series, from the New York Times. These books, which compile itineraries from the Gray Lady's weekly travel column, provide a bunch of suggestions for great weekend getaways for most of the major regions of the United States (and one book is of Europe). If the grad is headed to a new city for her job, these can be the perfect reminder that R&R should go along with all that hard work.
5. A great (recent) novel. Across the board, most students haven't done much reading lately that wasn't for school, and it can be an awesome gift to be given a new novel to read. I like to pick recent ones (and paperbacks, because they're cheap!), as it's unlikely the graduate will have read them; some of my picks this summer are WORLD WAR Z, BRINGING UP THE BODIES, and WILD (which is a memoir, but it reads like a novel). Or, a really touching and personal gift is to give the graduate the book that most resonated with you at that age—plus, it's fun to reminisce.
It's pretty easy to reach for the staples: OH THE PLACES YOU'LL GO, or a guide to surviving college for a high school grad, but if you step a tiny bit beyond the graduation display, there are lots of wonderful, and out-of-the-box (see what I did there?) gifts to be had.
What's your favorite graduation gift to give, book or otherwise?
Jessica S. Schley was once a pusher of very important papers for a small commercial nonfiction house. Nowadays, she divides her time between bookselling, being a grad student, and writing contemporary fiction for young adults.
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