Friday, May 18, 2012

New Nonfiction for Graduates

10 ½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said
by Charles Wheelan.

This is a wonderful little book that has come into our hands just in time for the graduation season, an antidote to the Pollyannaish platitudes delivered by distinguished speakers every year at this time, those words of wisdom spoken at length from under a mortarboard to bleary-eyed graduates who have spent the night before up too late partying and are just barely attentive to what anybody is saying anyway. Each chapter is accompanied by a whimsical cartoon by the New Yorker’s Peter Steiner. Wheelan’s idea here is to gently tell the truth, not to paint a foreboding prospect; to give practical advice, to find value in college experiences that may seem mundane, to urge moderation in expectations for the future, to just lighten up. A sampling of his chapter headings:

Your time in fraternity basements was well spent.

Some of your worst days lie ahead.

Don’t make the world worse.

Marry someone smarter than you are.

Read obituaries.

Take time off.

Your parents don’t want what is best for you.

It’s all borrowed time.

I have no idea what the future will bring.

Don’t try to be great.

This is an light book, but not necessarily a book of humor. The purpose here is serious, and the advice has grown from the author’s personal experience but also from his awareness of the cultural trends, social life, and economic realities of our time. It is timely and useful advice of the kind you won’t hear on graduation day, and would be a great read for today’s grads.

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