It’s the time of year when many high school grads pack up the station wagon, hit the road, and embark upon four years of higher learning in schools both academic and hard-knocky. Hopefully, if you’re the parent or older sibling of an incoming freshperson, you’ve imparted as much wisdom as you can about this exciting and often scary rite of passage.
Nevertheless, you’re bound to forget to drop some important knowledge that you wish you had before you matriculated many, many, many, maaa-haaa-ny years ago (you’re old, is my point). Thankfully, your college-bound loved one has probably learned to read by now. I guarantee, if you make sure they have these five books on their shelf or e-reader, they’ll probably get through the next four years with minimal emotional or bodily scarring.
This brand-spanking-new book gives funny, no-bullshit advice on the full gamut of college life, from making friends and getting along with roommates to sex, drugs, politics, and, you know, learning stuff about stuff so that you can get a job and hopefully not have to move back home and work at the car wash and ask all the neighborhood high school kids, “hey, guys, where’s the cool parties this weekend?” Because ugh. It’s also fucking hilarious, which is unsurprising since it’s curated by the fantastic writers and editors of “Seattle’s Only Newspaper,” The Stranger, including Dan Savage, Lindy West, Christopher Frizzelle, and Bethany Jean Clement.
Also, even if you’re, say, a 31-year-old writer and editor who already learned most of the stuff in the book the old-fashioned way, it’s a pretty good read.
Look: hopefully your kid has an awesome time at college, but a lot of kids don’t and some of them kill themselves. And kids killing themselves is, without hyperbole, the worst thing, because they really did have the best years of their lives ahead of them. You can watch a million “It Gets Better” videos, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, no matter how many happy people tell you it does. Kate suggests, when it gets really bad, just do something else for a little while. Even if it’s immoral or illegal, it’s probably better than killing yourself*. I love this, because no one is asking you to stop feeling miserable or “look at all the good thing you’ve got,” or some shit, which is seriously useless when you want to die. She just asks that, before you do that very final thing you were thinking about doing, you do this other thing, and then keep doing more other things until, hopefully, the impulse passes.
*There’s only one rule—don’t be mean—so murder, rape, and any other violent crimes are right out.
Chances are good that, once they leave the nest, your kids are going to start eating like absolute shit. They will likely spend the first semester eating sugar cereals and ice cream for every meal, and that’s regardless of whether they grew up appreciating things like vegetables and whole grains. Eventually—right around the time they move off campus with friends and ditch their meal plans—they’ll probably start longing for some actual food, and unless you gave them comprehensive cooking lessons throughout childhood, they’re pretty much up Lucky Charms creek without a spoon. How to Boil Water is the best cookbook for college students (and recent grads) who either have some cooking skills or none at all. It teaches the essential tools you’ll need (and how to use them), instructs you on how to stock your pantry, and contains a bunch of delicious recipes that are fast, healthy, and reasonably inexpensive. The reader will learn to make everything from pancakes to a roast turkey dinner. This means that some day you’ll finally get to sit down and watch the goddamn game with a goddamn glass of wine instead of slaving in the goddamn kitchen all goddamn Thanksgiving like you did for the last 20 goddamn years.
Most K-12 history learning is a little sparse when it comes to the perspectives of women, people of color, poor folks, immigrants, colonized nations, and other marginalized groups. Whether or not your kids go on to major in liberal arts type things like women’s studies, history, political science, or other disciplines that eventually supply the nation’s administrative assistants, they should still have a more thorough understanding of American history. This is because knowing about the past—from a variety of perspectives—helps you to better understand how current political conditions affect the lives of people of different races, nationalities, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic classes, abilities, etc. And a better understanding of others’ perspectives makes it easier to get along within diverse communities and grow into a non-asshole person. And I think that’s what we all want: for our kids to grow into non-asshole adults. Surely you’ve already done a great deal to make that happen, but a well-rounded perspective on the past helps a bunch.
Dude, you remember—college professors are not fucking around when it comes to bibliographies. An “A” paper can become a “C” paper with a shitty bibliography—and if you don’t have one at all, you could be facing plagiary charges. This book will tell your kid how to do a proper citation for any class they take. It’s not a very sexy book (well, it is to me, but I’m a complete nerd), but I guarantee you after finals your beloved freshman will thank you for it. Sure, all that information is on the internet, but this is a single, reliable source with referrals to online resources where you can get the most up-to-date information for a particular style (since every style guide changes ever so slighly each year to sell more style guides, those greedy bastards).
That’s my essential reading list for the college-bound—any must-reads I overlooked?