Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cathy's Recommendations for Graduation Gifting

May is a big month for graduations, and books, of course, are the perfect gifts for graduates.  I'm going to offer an eclectic list of titles that will help launch the grads towards whatever definition of success they may seek.

The Renaissance writer Montaigne penned his bestselling Essays over 400 years ago.  Sarah Bakewell   published a biography of Montaigne last year called How To Live : Or A Life of Montaigne In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer,   which became a surprise bestseller itself.  In  twenty compelling chapters Bakewell poses the same question, how to live, and answers it with Montaigne's life story and writings, offering thoughtful, practical insight and wisdom on, guess what:  How to live!    The first chapter: How to Live? A. Don't worry about death.  Chapter 7: How to Live? A. Question everything.  Chapter 12:  How to Live? A. Guard your humanity.  Chapter 20:  How to Live? A. Let life be it's own answer.   Learn how to live by savoring this lovely tome.

One of the wisest men of the 20th Century was the one and only Dr. Seuss.  His perennial bestseller  Oh, The Places You'll Go,  is a short, sweet, whimsical graduation speech imparting a lifetime of Seussian wisdom. 

In her hot off the presses new book The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons From Extraordinary Lives,  the inimitable (don't call her perky) Katie Couric  offers hard-won insights from visionaries and leaders, celebrities  and writers, running the gamut from Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice to George Lopez, Salmon Rushdie and Bill Clinton.  Many voices, great advice.

One of my favorite books of the season is a beautiful new anthology of poetry with a very special focus.  She Walks In Beauty: A Woman's Journey Through Poems is a collection of poems that celebrate and honor the many facets and stages of  women's lives.  Caroline Kennedy selected the poems and introduces each section, covering love, marriage, work,beauty and clothes (!), motherhood, silence and solitude, and more.

I'll segue from the sublime to the slightly ridiculous and absolutely hysterical memoir by Tina Fey,  Bossypants.  Ms. Fey, of Second City, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock fame has written a memoir that is both wildly entertaining and full of wisdom, albeit
unconventional and quite often, reader be warned, a bit off color.  And  inspiring.  Tina
Fey works very, very hard.  And she is very, very funny.

If you're going for the practical gift, get the grad a cookbook.  They have to eat, not matter what their career aspirations.  There are so many great basic cookbooks available, but I'd like to recommend the one that my daughter, a recent graduate, swears by and give to her
friends:  How To Cook Everything: 2,000 Simple Recipes for Great Food
by Mark Bittman.  The title tells it all and Mr. Bittman is a really smart food guy.

Carpe diem and bon appetit!


(originally published as The Book Lady Column at

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