THE TWO BEST BOOKS FOR COLLEGE GRADUATES
Whether you are buying a little gift for a graduating friend or young adult relative or are in charge of getting a bunch of gifts for grads from your church or organization, we want to remind you of these two books, the two very best recommendations we can make, the only two great books of this sort, designed for those leaving college and taking up life with faith in the post-college years.
One came out a couple of years ago (and was cooked up by your truly) and one came out just last summer and is new for this graduation season. They are both perfect gifts for Christian collegiates. I'll explain them briefly, and list just a couple of others, too, just for fun. But I'm exceedingly confident in saying that these first two are truly the best.
After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith Erica Young Reitz (IVP) $16.00 I want to keep this review fairly brief so you can get right to ordering them, but I could go on and on and about this exceptionally well written book. Erica, as I have said often in this newsletter, is a very dear friend and a great young mom and esteemed campus minister, a good colleague in the work of the CCO. Her semester-long "Exit" program at Penn State University where she and her volunteer team mentors a class of college seniors to prepare them for their transition to life after college is exceptionally well received, with participants exclaiming how life-changing and helpful it has been. It was out of many years of doing this, this experience of teaching and equipping and encouraging college seniors as they prepared for "real life" that she wrote this book. She nicely tells real life stories, not only about college seniors and the immediate aftermath of their graduation but of former students in the years following their departure from the close-knit Christian fellowship group and community experienced in their college years. Erica has wisely followed-up her young friends, seeing what sort of church they found in their new towns, how they were doing in discerning their vocations and securing new jobs, and what kind of social and emotional needs they had as young twenty-somethings new to the workforce and perhaps to a new community.
There is no doubt that what she has learned and offered to these folks in times of transition has paid of in their lives, and the wisdom translated into After College: Navigating Transitions... is buoyant and good and lasting.
Churches are understandably interested these days in emerging adults in the millennial generation, worried about trends such as those found in You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church or sociologist Christian Smith's Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. Happily, Erica shows young adults how not to be among those who drift away from church or who fail to make connections between their inner convictions and their lifestyle and work lives. She makes the project of being a vibrant young man or woman of faith seem more than plausible, but exciting and joyful and good. And, yes, plausible. You can do this, you can hear her saying on nearly every page.
Erica Reitz understands what we here at Hearts & Minds often talk about, certainly what I often write about in this BookNotes newsletter, writing in terms of a Christian worldview or the Kingship of Christ over all of life, the need to relate Sunday and Monday, the need to be concerned about the injustices in the world and to always be on the look-out for opportunities to serve. That the Christian faith is personally engaging and culturally relevant. Although After College isn't a strident manifesto for culturally-engaged, vocationally-driven, social action- oriented, missional discipleship, it does gently presume such a wholistic faith and a robust vision of "whole life discipleship." Which is to say, young adults will love it. And most readers of BookNotes, too, if they share any affinity with our redemptive vision, will appreciate it, too. I deeply trust her theologically and respect her perspective immensely.
Erica is an excellent friend to young adults, and she is an excellent guide and counselor. The book is very practical and although I've suggested it has a fairly broad vision of full-gospel discipleship over all of life and wants to inspire young adults to make a Kingdom difference in their new jobs and churches, it isn't breathy or visionary or at all pushy. After College is down to Earth with lovely writing, as if from a wise older sister offering common sense advice, inviting readers to consider just the right thing -- pushing them a bit here, encouraging them just a bit there, doing a brilliant job at walking the tight-rope of being both serious and playful, didactic and storytelling, prophetic and pastoral.
The wisdom it imparts is just what younger Christians need and her tone is friendly, upbeat, and pleasant. I can't imagine many ordinary young adults who wouldn't enjoy it. More importantly, I can't imagine any that wouldn't benefit from it. Giving After College is a gift in more ways than one. It is a token, a nice thing to share, but it is a deeper gift that could be a lasting life-line, quietly transformation, a big blessing in a small package. I am very serious: we hope you consider getting some of these to share with anyone you know who is leaving their years at university or trade school and heading out into the post-college season of life. Help them "transition well." You will feel good investing in young believers like this; order some today.
Here is the short review I did as the book was first coming out last summer.
Consider these lovely endorsements, just a few of many.
For instance, from Katherine Leary Alsdorf, founder of the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church:
After College understands and speaks to the disorientation that many college graduates experience upon entering the new world of work and adult living. Erica's book is well-grounded in her years of coaching young adults through this transition and offers lots of practical wisdom. Our church in New York City has welcomed many new graduates into our midst, most of whom struggle with the loneliness of professional life, tediousness of lower level jobs and fear of a meaningless life. They need what Erica prescribes: realistic expectations, real community and renewed trust in God's purposes.
And here, from a fun guy who knows as much about the research on college age and young adult stuff as anybody I know, Derek Melleby. He wrote a book for those heading off to college (Make College Count) and currently is the Executive Director of the great gap year program, OneLife. He says,
Big changes and transitions often force people to ask big questions: Who am I? Why am I here? What am I doing? After College provides a helpful guide to wrestle with those questions in a way that is inspiring and hopeful. Erica is a keen listener: she listens well to God, recent research and student stories to offer a roadmap for success in today's world.
I hope you know how sincere we are in suggesting this book. After College would make a fantastic gift for anyone leaving college. We're delighted to know Erica, to be a cheer-leader for this fine book, and to be able to send some out to you or your church or ministry who wants to honor your college graduates.
Serious Dreams: Big Ideas for the Rest of Your Life edited by Byron Borger (Square Halo Books) $13.99 Okay, just a few details, first. This is a pretty snazzy, compact-sized paperback with a vibrant cover and a nice-to-the-touch matte finish that includes a few little artsy touches inside--a silhouetted oak leaf, an iconic acorn decorating the reflection questions after each chapter, visually picking up the theme of the big trees on the cover. We are proud of how the design expertise of Ned Bustard at Square Halo enhanced the look and feel of this book, making it a nice gift without being overdone or merely a gifty keepsake.
And, man, this is more than a gifty keepsake.
Although it doesn't have all the practical counsel that the aforementioned After College has, it does have some clear headed advice. Erica Young Reitz, in fact, has a lovely afterword, bringing some inspiring ideas about transitioning well to the Epilogue called "Launch Out, Land Well."
And I wrote a lengthy introduction that, although pretty eloquent at a couple spots when the muse was working overtime, attempted to frame the breathy, inspiring speeches that followed with some down-home, real-world wisdom. I comment there about the sadness that many new grads feel, leaving what they think might have been the best years of their lives. I talk about moving home with parents and the increasingly common-place quandary of not finding a job in one's major (or not finding a job at all.) It's okay, I say. Despite the zealous tone of most of the book, I start it all off with what I have been told is advice that some readers really needed to her. It's going to be okay.
The heart of Serious Dreams is easy to explain. It really does offer "bold ideas." It is comprised of seven moving chapters that were first delivered as rousing speeches; graduation speeches, to be precise. After I did a commencement address at Geneva College's grad school a few years ago there were a number of requests for a written copy of that address. In that same month Beth and I listened to a very moving graduation speech woven somewhat around a Wendell Berry poem delivered by then Dean Claudia Beversluis at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. Wiping tears from our eyes during that grand commencement talk it dawned on me that perhaps a book could be developed as a gift for graduating college seniors using these kinds of visionary calls to live out Christian faith after having been shaped and taught for four years at a college.
I called up a few friends, including Dr. Beversluis, and people I admired who had delivered excellent speeches at Christian colleges, challenging students to live out their faith in all of life, in the marketplaces and neighborhoods of their upcoming new lives.
We were thrilled to be given amazing drafts to work with by world-class leaders Richard Mouw, Nicholas Wolterstorff, Claudia Beversluis, Steve Garber, Amy Sherman and John Perkins. Editing these fine sermons, upbeat and visionary and inspiring as they were, was a challenge and great joy. A second edition quickly cleaned up some printing oddities and the finely crafted second edition came out last year when the first batch sold out. Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas isn't well known or sold widely - the boutique publisher just doesn't get their stuff out very widely - so you can be pretty confident that young adults you know will not have been given this yet. It's a little awkward promoting my own book but I have to say that we hope you consider it. Few young adults get this kind of royal treatment - being encouraged to take faith into life, to live into visions of vocation, to be agents of God's mission in the world by taking faith seriously as a way of life, even in the careers and callings of the hurting, secularized world. Particularly if they graduated from a public university or secular private one, their graduation speech most likely didn't sound anything like these. We are so eager to share them with others.
Here are the actual chapter titles for Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life:
Introduction: Live Well, Do Good, Be True Byron Borger
You Need Two Eyes Nicholas Wolterstorff
Rejoicing Your Community Amy Sherman
The Memory in the Seed Claudia Beversluis
Common Grace for the Common Good Steven Garber
Three Cheers for the Sons & Daughters of Issachar Byron Borger
The Three Roads and the Three Rs John Perkins
Epilogue: Launch Out, Land Well Erica Young Reitz
Here is a link to my longer BookNotes review that I wrote to first announce this. It was pretty exciting for me and I'd be tickled if you revisit it.
You know what? I am not at all trying to be pushy or overly merry about this, but I truly think that giving both After College: Navigating Transitions, Relationships and Faith and Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Life would be fantastic. One is a bit more practical and offering wise guidance on navigating changes. The other is a bit more idealistic, offering inspiring messages to cast a vision for making a difference with one's life, taking up vocations and callings in the complexities of modern life, for the glory of God. Really, they could wrap up nicely together and be a powerhouse combo. Why not buy 'em both?
Five more suggestions that we highly recommend:
The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life Os Guinness (Word Publishing) $17.99 This is eloquent and elegant and wise and mature, short chapters that can be read by those who want a deep and thoughtful reminder of their own sense of purpose as it aligns with God's decisive call upon their lives. Nearly any book these days about vocation or any book about a Christian view of work draws on this at one point or another; it is a classic. It is one of my all time favorite books, and I highly recommend it for those who like fine writing, allusions and quotes from history and literature and some intense thinking about the significant of ultimate meaning.
Twenty-Two: Letters to a Young Woman Searching for Meaning (Thomas Nelson Publishing) $22.99 Did you see my BookNotes comments about this a week ago? This is a very handsome hardback designed as a set of letters to a young woman who is graduating from college. As I described it, this book is a set of letters by a vibrant young evangelical woman written to a fictional college woman named Tish who wants a mentor, wants to think about her college life but more, what comes next, and desires a thoughtful, informed, life. It offers great spiritual wisdom, is overtly Christian, but there's delightful stuff about travel, about internships, about jobs, and relationships, about reading fiction, just all kinds of sharp advise. It is nicely written, upbeat, honest, intimate and at times visionary. Allison Trowbridge is quite a writer and invites readers to quite a life. Endorsements run from Bob and Maria Goff to Jonathan Merritt. Very nicely done.
Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good Steve Garber (IVP) $17.99 I won't say again the many reasons we love this book but you may know that I've mentioned it here often. Steve is a fine, fine writer, a deep thinker, and a personable, intense friend to many. He loves little more - other than being with his family, hiking or bike riding, or reading or watching movies, that is - he loves little more than inviting people to earnest chat with "conversations with consequence." He networks beautifully, bringing folks together to tell stories of grace and goodness, and of struggle and pain, of hope and the effort to make a difference. This book has emerged from his "come and see" pedagogy, his many stories of people doing life together, telling their stories of hanging in as God's great grace allows. Can we care about the common good, remaining faithful over the long haul of our lives, not giving in to cynicism or "whatever"? This book allows careful readers to learn to love the things God loves, loving the world despite its deep sorrow. What an amazing, rich, thoughtful book, a perfect gift to honor a major life transition for anyone who is serious about the things that matter most. Here is one of the times I discussed it at BookNotes when it first came out.
A Woman's Place: A Christian Vision for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World Katelyn Beaty (Howard Books) $22.99 I am sure you understand that we don't think that any sort of graduate - let alone college graduates - should be given a little token gift that trivializes the momentous occasion of their matriculation or that trivializes the way the Christian faith can provide insight and comfort and vision for the seasons to come. This is a key time to offer something sturdy and vital so we gravitate to books about calling and career, about vocation and transformation, about lasting faith and discipleship There are many other books than the few I've listed above but, for what it is worth, there are none this good that are particularly about women's callings into the workplace, making this book a rare treat and a real gift. It would make a great gift for a college woman.
We are real fans of Katelyn Beaty and real fans of this recent book. I reviewed it a bit more extensively here when it first came out. I hope it makes its way into many hands this season; it could be a wonderful gift idea for any young woman graduating this year. For what it is worth, there will be some video curriculum produced for church or small group use around this book next year which perhaps indicates a widening interest in the topic and that the author is increasingly known. I can assure you, Beaty's A Woman's Place is keenly important, would make a delightful gift, and is very highly recommended.
Leading Lives That Matter: What We Should Do and Who We Should Be edited by Dorothy Bass and Mark Schwen (Eerdmans) $31.00 What a hefty volume this is, almost 550 beautiful pages, chock-full of essays and articles and poems, a truly amazing collection. This a thick paperback book that is a rich, rich resource good to give for any important occasion, it seems. With pieces as diverse as Frederick Buechner and Dorothy Day and Mark Twain and Dorothy Sayers and Thomas Merton, and even older authors -- Homer! Tolstoy! -- coupled with thoughtful introductions and nice reflection questions, this literary reader is a great book to dip in to anytime the spirit flags and you need reminded about the deeper meaning and joy of living lives that matter. Perfect for those that might not want something seeming to be too overtly religious and that draws on wider literary sources. it is a gift that will last a lifetime.
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