Give Your Grad a Used Book

It is graduation season for high-school seniors. And if you are like the millions of friends and relatives invited to a graduation party, you will no doubt face this question: What should I give my friend as a graduation gift?

On graduation day, you cannot go wrong with a good book. It does not have to be expensive; it does not even have to be new. Over the last four decades, I have given away hundreds of used books to graduating friends, often either only a dollar or two in price or even something off my own shelves. Add a little color and pizzazz to the present by wrapping it in a bold page taken from a magazine. My favorites are pages from magazines like Wine Spectator and Cigar Aficionado with their oversized pages, spectacular photographs and rich colors. I have picked up old issues from barber shops, tobacconists and libraries—all for free.

Why books? Why used books?

A good book is a way into the world. Graduates commence, which means they leave school and head on to new things. Add a little vision to their journey with a novel or a work in history or philosophy that you love and that any friend of yours would do well to have in a personal library. It is really special when you pass on a title that helped you in some way as you went off to college, a new job, service or mission.

A good book builds friendship. True friends foster in each other what is good. Money is fine; food, cards, clothes, and all sorts of treats are fine presents. But a friend is someone to whom we ought to give the best; and books are at the top of the presents list for their beauty, insight, vision, and inspiration.

A good book is a beautiful reminder of the deep and rich wellsprings that brought us to this day. Computers, so-called smart TVs and cell phones all have their place. But they are late to the game and only stand in service to the heart of human achievement. Books still hold the field of competition for the keepers of our past, of our tradition, and the heart of our culture.

Used books have some advantages over new. A used book will often have the names of previous owners. It will certainly have the wear they gave it, evidenced in the pages worked over, the binding softened. And this is an advantage, you ask? Yes. A used book says that we the readers, “we reading few, we band of readers,” past and present, dead and living, are in this together. To care for a used book, to give it a place on one’s shelf, to love it as its previous owners did, is one small way to keep our culture alive for another day.

And some day, your graduating friend can pass that book on to yet another graduate and keep the love of books alive.

Andrew J. Zwerneman serves as Cana Academy’s president. He graduated from high school in 1977.