With some middle school and high school graduations coming up, I've been thinking about appropriate presents. A decent fountain pen has gravitas. And you can't go wrong with a nice new wallet with a couple of crisp twenties tucked inside. But, somehow, none of these seem permament enough this year. It used to be that a good dictionary, like a pair of comfortable shoes, was always reliable. I like the idea of a book, but I'm going for something a little less predictable.
I don't think any middle-schooler, or high-schooler, or adult for that matter should be going through life without a complete collection of Grimm's fairy tales. Not the kind with just a few of the stories, or a volume with many pictures. But something like The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm, translated by Jack Zipes, with all 210 stories plus 32 tales that have not made it into English before this version. I know, I know, there are problems with some of the stories. All sorts of problems. But Alfred Einstein always kept a copy of these tales handy and read one each night. He felt that there was something in these ancient stories that kept replenishing his imagination -- and, if that's the case, then they helped change the way we all think about our world.
Though it may not seem as weighty as Grimm, I'd add Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird to the stack for the new graduate, too. It's a beautifully written, funny, and very wise book that offers, as the subtitle puts it, "Some Instructions on Writing and Life." And whether you're an experienced writer or just beginning to learn the craft, or dread the thought of ever doing it, Lamott has something for you. And the story that gives the book its title is one of those life "instructions" that a young person (or an older one) would do well to use every day.
Finally, the package wouldn't be complete without Dr. Seuss's Oh, The Places You'll Go -- which is an allegory for all those graduating from one place and moving on to the next -- which is to say all of us, at one time or another. And if today's young people are going to make between five and six career changes in their working lives, then they should keep the good Doctor's verses close by, for comfort and perspective, and for a little humor to go with the hard-won wisdom, as well as for some poetry to help keep the rhythms of change flowing.
Copyright 2003 © John Cech
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