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Selecting a book for a recent grad is akin to searching for a needle in a haystack: it’s a monumental task. Finding the perfect gifts for readers from a seemingly endless selection feels almost impossible—unless, of course, you’ve been closely following this person’s reading habits for a couple decades, to which I say, kudos. Most of us, however, don’t play detective in our spare time and deciphering what any 20something likes, reading or otherwise, can be a serious challenge. Luckily, there is one near-foolproof way to avoid the embarrassment of gifting the wrong writings: thorough, covers-all-the-bases-style gift ideas for book lovers. Check out this gift guide for grads who love to read and get your bookworm the perfect present to celebrate their milestone.
- Best graduation gift for minimalists: The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism
- Best graduation gift for world travelers: New York Times Explorer: 100 Trips Around the World
- Best graduation gift for designers: The Design of Everyday Things
- Best graduation gift for fashion lovers: Women in Clothes
- Best graduation gift for sports fanatics: A Most Beautiful Thing
- Best graduation gift for budding scientists: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
- Best graduation gift for outdoorsy types: An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field
- Best graduation gift for aspiring writers: How to Write An Autobiographical Novel
- Best graduation gift for activists: The Sum of Us
- Best graduation gift under $11: Congratulations, by the way
Things to consider when shopping for graduation gifts for book lovers
Gift ideas for book lovers can be practical but impressionable (I mean, there’s nothing wrong with giving a Kindle Paperwhite), but they can also be tailored gifts for readers. You just need to determine if the gift recipient is omnivorous or digging deep into a specific topic. From there, the perfect gifts for book lovers will be something that shows them all the potential that their worlds, both internal and external, hold. No pressure, right? That’s why we’ve done almost all of the work for you, putting together, a gift guide for grads who like reading gifts of all sorts; what’s left to decide is what sort of wisdom you want to impart on your new grad, whether it’s aerodynamics or agriculture, sports or science, the science of sports, etc. Check out this gift guide for grads who love to read and find the perfect book!
For the grad that wants a fresh start: The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism
If “less is more” is your grad’s mantra, consider gifting them a critical analysis of one of the most dominant trends of the 21st century: minimalism. “The Longing for Less” is Kyle Chayka’s deep dive into the world of all things minimalist, from artists like Donald Judd and Agnes Martin, to pop culture figures like Marie Kondo, to the historical significance of the trend itself, which dates back much further than our current obsession with clutter-free living. Simply put, this book makes it possible to peel back the layers of the minimalist trend and get to the heart of what makes it so attractive to so many people.
Graduation gifts for grads that dream of travel: New York Times Explorer: 100 Trips Around the World
No gift guide for grads is complete without some wanderlust inspo. Traveling around the world often feels like a distant fantasy, but this “New York Times Explorer” provides the next best thing. With 100 first-hand stories from trips on every continent (and, of course, accompanying photographs), these travel entries will take your grad to the destinations they’ve always dreamt of. Color-coded tabs make it easy to find certain locations, and I’d also recommend wrapping this up with a stack of Post-its so that your giftee can easily bookmark their favorite spots. Oh, and when international travel is feasible, this book is also equipped with tons of practical advice to help its reader get where they’re going, sans stress.
For the grad who wants to (re)shape the world: The Design of Everyday Things
This gift guide for grads aims to help you find a reading gift for any type of graduate. If you know someone obsessed with design, this if for them. If a product looks good, but is impossible to use, is it really well-designed? In “The Design of Everyday Things,” author Don Norman argues no—and that the best kind of design ethos is one which prioritizes human needs, impulses, and intuition over aesthetic beauty. Because this book is loaded with timeless wisdom, it’s one of those graduation gifts that your giftee will likely revisit again and again, regardless of where their career path takes them. And because design is truly everywhere, the lessons they take from this book will be relevant in relation to almost any product (or space, or software) that they encounter.
For the grad that likes to see and be seen: Women in Clothes
Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton
A collection of interviews (and photographs) with hundreds of women from around the world, “Women in Clothes” provides a perspective on clothes that is unmatched in its breadth and depth. From celebrities such as Molly Ringwald and Lena Dunham to everyday, anonymous people, these interviewees don’t hold back when it comes to analyzing that all-important daily task of getting dressed. Flipping through this book is like getting a peek inside the lives of women from every walk of life, and hearing straight from them about why clothing is so powerful and thought-provoking. Importantly, these are the kind of graduation gifts that can be opened to almost any page for an instant jolt of inspiration.
For the grad that wants to break down barriers: A Most Beautiful Thing
Newly released in February 2021, “A Most Beautiful Thing” is author Arshay Cooper’s own story of growing up in Chicago and becoming the captain of America’s first all-Black high school rowing team. He’s also the star of the namesake documentary, which was produced by NBA stars Grant Hill and Dwayne Wade and narrated by Common. In a nutshell, this is a story of perseverance and mastery, but it’s also a story of brotherhood and triumph. And while it starts at Manley High School in Chicago’s Westside of the 1990s, it takes its readers far beyond those streets, most notably to the campuses (and waters) of the Ivy League.
Graduation gifts for the grad that questions the answers: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
You may know this title because of the 2017 film of the same name (starring Oprah Winfrey, no less), but “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” actually started out as a book, way back in 2011. In 381 pages, author Rebecca Skloot uncovers the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose cells were taken without her knowledge and used in a laundry list of medical breakthroughs, and her descendants, who are—rightly so—disturbed and angered by what was obviously non-consensual scientific experimentation. At times moving and at times utterly infuriating, this story of medical consequences and ethics is a must-read for any graduate who hopes to enter the complex world of scientific research.
Graduation gifts for the grad that’s an explorer at heart: An Unspoken Hunger: Stories from the Field
Terry Tempest Williams
Searching for a gift guide for grads who love to explore? Look no further. Terry Tempest Williams is practically a living legend when it comes to the conservation and exploration of the natural world. You might know her from her critically acclaimed memoir, “Refuge,” but “An Unspoken Hunger” is arguably just as essential a read for anyone interested in the great outdoors. In 18 essays, Williams traverses landscapes east and west, walking through the Palo Duro Canyon so beloved by Georgia O’Keeffe, the sweeping terrain of Alaska, and the protests against nuclear testing in the American West; unsurprisingly, each story reveals the wisdom and eloquence of its author. Written in 1995, this book is now older than most grads—but its power (and relevance!) has only grown with time.
Graduation gifts for the grad with a story to tell: How to Write An Autobiographical Novel
Don’t be fooled by the title: “How to Write An Autobiographical Novel” is not so much a guidebook as it is a collection of essays on writing, living, and all the rest, from Korean American queer writer Alexander Chee. Consider this book an unconventional guiding light for your recent grad: it’ll teach them everything that school didn’t, introduce them to the life of a modern (and successful) writer, and give them the advice they crave without being too prescriptive about it. If Chee’s own post-grad life—which was undeniably scrappy and full of odd jobs to make ends meet—can teach your new grad anything, it’s that perseverance (and, of course, talent) goes a very long way.
Graduation gifts for the grad that wants positive change: The Sum of Us
Last summer, we saw a resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and subsequent protests over police violence ensued. Obviously, the work didn’t stop there—and reading is one tool that many have selected to improve their social justice literacy. If that sounds like your grad, consider purchasing “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” It’s one of those personalized, relevant grad gifts that is sure to have an impact long after your grad sheds their cap and gown. Courtesy of author Heather McGhee, this heavily researched book takes a trip across the United States to figure out what went wrong in American society, why so many folks believe it’s a zero-sum game, and how we can all begin to heal, together.
For the grad on graduation day: Congratulations, by the way
Sometimes you’re not sure which book is right for your grad, or maybe you’re worried that a too-specific selection will send the wrong message. Not to worry—there’s a book for that particular brand of stress, too, and its title couldn’t be more straightforward: “Congratulations, by the way.” This book is essentially a transcript of George Saunders’ 2013 commencement address at Syracuse University, which was rooted in a simple and important concept: kindness. Relevant to essentially any grad—no matter their school, age, or major—this short and sweet message is one that any person would do well to absorb.
The final word on gifts for book lovers
This gift guide for grads is full of inspiration and information on how to shop for your new graduate. The best kind of graduation gifts are timeless ones; the kind of present that will stay with a recent graduate long after they’ve moved on from school. And the things that can truly stay with someone mentally and emotionally, if not physically, are great book gifts for readers. The right gifts for book lovers have the potential to impart some serious wisdom, and remind us of life’s greatest lessons and joys. What could be more appropriate for a recent grad—who’s stepping out into the world for the first time, post-school—than that?
PopSci wants to help you find the most useful and expert shopping recommendations for the best gift ideas. Searching for more unique gifts? Check out more gift guides here: Eco-Friendly Gifts, Best Tech Gifts, Gifts for Small Apartments.