Great Books for Grads

      Our favorite Book Critic, Ellen Heltzel, says a book is the perfect gift for a recent graduate. She stopped by to share her current favorites.


      Of all the gifts you can give a high school or college graduate, a book is hard to beat.

      It's cost-effective (that is, cheap), easy to wrap and -- most important -- it underlines the educational achievement that prompted the gift. Here are five stand-out ways to say that learning is a life-long experience.

      1. For the business-minded woman on your list: "Lean In for Graduates," by Sheryl Sandberg. I was skeptical of Sandberg's original book about leaning in because she spoke to other working women from such a rarefied place, the executive suite. But this book is better: It helps young women who are entering the workforce understand the subtle prejudices they are up against, including their own self-doubt. Sandberg seems more like the rest of us in this book, which also brings in other women's experiences to make her point. Take heart, girls: Half the solution is knowing the problem!

      2. For the budding writer or psychotherapist: "The Opposite of Loneliness," by Marina Keegan. Keegan, a Yale graduate, was already on her way to a promising career when she was killed in a car accident five days after graduation. Her parents compiled this book of her essays and fiction, which demonstrate just how precocious she was. With her enthusiasm and talent, she understood more about human nature than most people twice her age. And she knew how to turn that understanding into words.

      3. For anyone headed toward the helping professions: "The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change," by Adam Braun. At 24, Braun was launching his dreamed-of career on Wall Street when another idea gripped him with manic intensity: to start a nonprofit that would build primary schools in developing countries. Today Pencils of Promise can take credit for building more than 200 schools around the world. "In moments of uncertainty," Braun advises, "immerse yourself in the life you would be most proud to live."

      4. For anyone who likes to be on the cutting edge: "The Big Tiny: A Built-It-Myself Memoir," by Dee Williams. At the age of 41, Williams had a near-death experience that made her realize she didn't want to be controlled by a big house and mortgage. Her solution? To build an 84-square-foot house on wheels that launched not only a new lifestyle but a business, Portland Alternative Dwellings. Less stuff, more happiness. Really.

      5. For anyone who dreams: "The Alchemist," by Paulo Coelho. The 25th-anniversary edition of this modern classic, a paperback, has just arrived in time for graduation. In this simple story by a Brazilian whose books are international bestsellers, a shepherd boy leaves home in pursuit of his fortune and ends up learning that the true treasure lies within. "To realize one's destiny is a person's only obligation," Coelho writes. Certainly a sentiment that will be heard at many graduation ceremonies!