Caring For Your Pre-Grad: 3 Affirming Books for Seniors

Though I’m sure some of my fellow bloggers have expressed similar sentiments in the past, allow me to add my oft-squeaky voice to the chorus: there are few collegiate pick-me-ups that can beat a good care package. While homesick freshmen might seem the most apt candidates for a box of goodies from their families, I can promise you that we seniors are equally needy. Freshmen face the ups and downs of transitioning to uni life for the first time, but seniors–inevitably swamped with theses, job applications, the challenges of off-campus living, and possibly a bit of pre-grad melancholy–have to get ready to enter their independent lives  for the first time.

I’d almost rather be seventeen again, dealing with my first winter and the perils of shared bathroom facilities.

I don’t know how many parents/siblings/relatives/significant others/mystical guardian figures of college seniors read my blog, but in the off-chance that any do, I’ve compiled a brief list of books that would be the perfect addition to any artsy 2014 graduate’s “You can handle senioritis!” care package.

And if you’re a senior yourself (but lack any mystical guardian figure to send you relevant books in the mail), I recommend tracking down one of these texts at Olin the next time you begin considering an ascetic’s life in the woods instead of grad school or a career. They’ll make you feel better, and the job apps, homework, and world of social media can wait a few hours. I promise.

Alena by Rachel Pastan

It amazed me that sitting in a darkened room looking at slides of Madonnas and Venuses and bowls of oranges counted as work….I loved the way you could trace the evolution of perspective, how it was perfected in southern Europe over centuries, and then stretched and tested and discarded over more centuries until it became a quaint anachronism, like a whalebone corset or a doublet and hose.

This one goes out to all the friends and relatives of art, archaeology, art history, and museum studies majors (or other students likely to turn the basement into an installation in the event that they move back in with their parents after college). I’m already a huge fan of “museum fiction”–it only takes a few lines about preparators or Peggy Guggenheim to get me hooked–and Alena embodies the joy and trials of entering the art world while spinning an eerie tale modelled on du Maurier’s Rebecca. 

If your senior doesn’t know Marina Abramovic from Marina and the Diamonds, though, Pastan’s third novel is still worth a read. The narrator’s frustration with her first post-grad curatorial job and the string of weird encounters and coincidences that inexplicably lead her to the position of her dreams (nightmarish though it sometimes seems) will surely resonate with and comfort any frazzled future graduate.

Or, you know, make him/her start searching around for eccentric, haunted museum directors in search of the perfect inexperienced but talented curator to fill the shoes of a woman who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One of the two!

John Cage: Writer, selected texts ed. by Richard Kostelanetz

One day he happened to say that to be an architect, one must devote oneself entirely to architecture, that is, give all one’s time to it. The next day I told him that I could not do that because there were many things I loved that were not architecture, and there were many things I did not even know, and I was still curious.”

When “A Composer’s Confessions” was assigned early on in my Experimental Music course, I quickly began a passionate (and inevitably one-sided) relationship with John Cage. Before reading the essay, I had already listened to some Cage and thought his music (especially the prepared piano pieces) was pretty much the best thing ever, but this look into his background convinced me that we must be kindred spirits of a sort.

Like me (and perhaps like your creative ’14 grad!), Cage was torn between a great number of artistic passions, and eventually left college after two years to explore Europe and take a hands-on approach to learning. I’m certainly not planning to drop out of school any time soon, but it’s helpful to realize that at least some of the artists, writers, and performers plagued with uncertainty about their future careers can indeed end up eventually achieving artistic success (and/or sticking random stuff on and under piano strings).

Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks by Ken Jennings

There are, in my mind, two possible consequences of reading this exceptionally witty book by Jeopardy! champion extraordinaire (and blatant maphead) Ken Jennings.

Sometimes the nightmarish process of consolidating passions into resume-ready categories like skills, experience, and professional goals makes it difficult to remember what truly loving a subject is like. If your creative-type soon-to-be postgrad has spent the past few months feeling nothing more than the dull apathy that inevitably sets in after tens of employers deign to even send back a confirmation email, Maphead might provide the rejuvenation s/he needs.

Yes, the esotericism of the map-collecting (and geocaching, and National Geographic Bee, etc) world might seem (more than) a little obsessive at times, but I found that reading about people who cared so passionately about something helped me recall that I do have a lot of interests  (e.g. writing, environmentalism, vintage synthesizers) that I care about–and knowing my interests and passions makes it easier to set goals.

The second possible outcome? Well, your future Cornell alum might simply read this book and become a maphead him/herself.

My personal favorite study-break involves this reproduction map of Jamestown, but
My personal favorite type of study break involves a cup of lavender rooibos and this reproduction of Smith’s 1607 Virginia.

Still, what cooler way to procrastinate sending off Job App #55 than by tracing the contours of that one random National Geographic poster map stuck between quarter cards and gas bills in your housemate’s messy desk?

1 Comment

  1. I didn’t even know that museum fiction was a thing! Great post, Keely.

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