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Five Actually-Useful Books To Gift to Your Favorite College Grad

Graphic: Shep McAllister

Stop! Put down that copy of Oh, the Places You’ll Go. Your son/daughter/nephew/cousin probably already has three versions, and you can do better. Here are five books that’ll help any new graduate enter the real world like a confident grown-up.

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“Books, you say? Those tree-killing bricks with information you can just as easily find online?” Here’s the thing: while any youngster could find the following information on YouTube or Google, the beauty of books is showing them the stuff they don’t know to look for. When you’re new to the real world and don’t know why your 401k is important, or how GFCI outlets work, a book can bring the information to them.

And that’s the kind of stuff we’re aiming for in this list. Sure, there are countless books out there that deal with the philosophical, self-help-y parts of growing up. Some of them are good. Some of them less so. But I’ll be ignoring those for now. Instead, this list is all about the little(ish) things that many of us were not taught how to do growing up. Once you’ve mastered those things, you can tackle the big stuff—and you’ll feel a hell of a lot more confident doing so after you have your day-to-day life under control.

Ask a Manager
Photo: Amazon

Survive Your Job: Alison Green’s Ask a Manager

Getting a job is only half the battle. Actually working that job is tough—not just the work itself, but navigating corporate power structures, dealing with inter-cubicle drama, and avoiding stagnation in your career. Alison Green has been blogging at askamanager.org for for 12 years, guiding readers through the confusing world of office politics through reader questions. Her book, Ask a Manager, walks you through some of the most common, difficult conversations you’ll have on the job—from negotiating a raise to dealing with a spotlight-hogging coworker. In other words, it teaches you all the stuff people tend to learn from experience...without having to learn the hard way. That should give you a nice 5-year leg up on the other twentysomethings in the office.

While the book mostly focuses on the conversations you’ll have on the job, Green also has an ebook on how to get a job, if the graduate in your life still hasn’t completed that first step.

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Manage Your Money: Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich

I’m not exaggerating when I say Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You To Be Rich might be the book that turned me into an actual adult. Despite the bombastic title—which matches Sethi’s no-nonsense writing style—this is a remarkably practical book with level-headed financial advice. It’s not about getting rich quick; rather, it approaches topics like credit cards, budgeting, and investing in a way that’s engaging, easy to understand, and makes you say “holy shit, I really need to do this properly.” (Not to mention it calls out the crappy advice you see everywhere else—like cutting down on $3 lattes—so you can focus on the “big wins” that actually matter.)

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We talked about this book many times over the years at Lifehacker, but Sethi has finally released a second edition with more modern recommendations, tons of testimonials from real people, and tips on how to overcome mental money hangups. This has been one of my go-to graduation gifts for years, and I wish someone had given it to me at 22 so I’d have a few more years of 401k contributions in the bank.

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Cook Your Own Damn Food: America’s Test Kitchen’s New Essentials Cookbook

Not all cookbooks are exactly beginner-friendly. Sure, you could give them What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner, which is sure to be good for a few laughs at the graduation party. But without a basic understanding of their kitchen hardware, how to use it, and the science behind cooking, they’re going to get back on the takeout train pretty quickly. America’s Test Kitchen has been explaining this stuff for almost two decades, and their New Essentials Cookbook contains 200 recipes, plus walkthroughs on how to use your chef’s knife, how flavors interact with one another, and the other basics you need to cook for yourself.

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It’s not the only book of its type—Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and the now-classic Joy of Cooking are also go-tos in this arena—but the New Essentials is shorter and a bit more accessible to folks who might otherwise be intimidated by 1000 page manifestos. (Not to mention science-minded millennials.) Bonus tip: If you want to spend a little more, get them a cooking class with a friend so they can learn the skills “on the job,” so to speak—that was what really kick-started my confidence in the kitchen.

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Stop Living Like a Pig: Jolie Kerr’s My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag...and Other Things You Can’t Ask Martha

If you read The Inventory at all, you know the name Jolie Kerr. She’s the woman who spends her time teaching us idiots how to clean everything, from the basic how to clean your grill to the more complex but equally important how to get lube stains out of your sheets. (Trust me, nothing says “I’m still in college” like lube stains on sheets you haven’t washed in three weeks on a bed you haven’t made.) I’ve been reading Jolie’s stuff long before she was a contributor to the fine blog you’re reading now, and if you know a filthy person entering the real world, they need this book. My Boyfriend Barfed in My Handbag a remarkably fun read for something that deals with life’s most boring chore, and explains what you need to do around your house and how to make it somewhat enjoyable. Plus, where else can you learn about getting jizz stains out of your armchair? I’m not aware of any other books dealing with the matter, and it’s a serious issue.

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Fix Your Stuff: The Family Handyman’s 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know

I know, I know, your graduating friend is a broke millennial who isn’t going to own an actual home for 10 years because the they have too much student debt and eat too much avocado toast. And I struggled with this recommendation because many DIY books—like the ever-popular Reader’s Digest Complete Do-It-Yourself Manual—are more like reference tomes for more hardcore DIYers. Despite the title, though, The Family Handyman’s 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know is more of a book you can actually read, showing you how your stuff works and how to fix it—whether it’s replacing the flapper valve on a toilet, hanging a heavy mirror properly, or preparing for a natural disaster. A good portion of it is just as relevant to apartment dwellers as homeowners, and it’s something they’ll be able to revisit as they move up the housing chain. Plus, it’ll help them get their security deposit back when they move.

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About the author

Whitson Gordon

Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and all-around tech nerd. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn't get grease on his mechanical keyboard.