20 January, 2022

LitStaff Pick: The Best Books for Graduates

Selected Poems Langston Hughes 

As young people celebrate the happy and momentous occasion of their graduation, well meaning friends and relatives everywhere wring their hands and wonder: What to give a young person about to head out into the world? The pressure to find the perfect gift approximates the crafting of a commencement address – an event of such magnitude should be commemorated with something inspiring, timeless. The ideal gift should celebrate the recipient’s personality, while also conveying something essential about the giver’s values. Of course said recipient is probably broke, and likely deeply in debt, which is why it is much easier and arguably more considerate to mail a check and a card and be done with it. But we are book people, dammit! What would be the fun in sending cash, when you could give a book that might pass along a kernel of truth, a nugget of wisdom, something meaningful – transcendental even – to the next generation of thinkers?

When contemplating books that make good graduation gifts, my thoughts turned first to those books that came into my life during my college years and which have become permanent fixtures on my bookshelves. These are the beloved volumes that not only survived that initial transition from student life to first apartment, but many subsequent moves and any number of library book sale purges since. Of the books that have stayed with me, a yellowed, dusty paperback copy of Selected Poems Langston Hughes (Vintage Books, 1974) is perhaps one of my favorites. My first introduction to Hughes’ poetry was a high school reading of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, based on that famous line from Hughes’ poem Harlem in which he invests his most intimate hopes and disappointments, bared and offered up to all, “What happens to a dream deferred?” The memory of that poem surely led to my later purchase of this collection, but over the years I have come to discover so much more in his poetry. Hughes’ poems range from hopeful and uplifting to heart-breaking and soul-baring; from portraits of history and places, to calls for justice and compassion. They demand that we look more closely at ourselves, at others, and at the world around us- not a bad message to carry along on the journey.

-Jennifer M. Kaufman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.