One of the best feelings in this world is when you meet someone and you’re sharing stories, feeling each other out like boxers at the beginning of a match. Then something clicks and there’s that aha moment, the cathartic release of, “You too?! I’m not alone!” These kinds of conversations can take place anywhere. Playing board games, eating lunch at Jason’s Deli after church, in a small room and comfortable chair waiting three hours while your car gets yet more work done. A lifelong friendship begins in that serendipitous moment of connection, where we feel a little less lonely on this big, beautiful ball of dirt.

Some of my best friends are books.

From the capers of Calvin & Hobbes and the absurd adventures of Winterdance to the wonder of Harry Potter and the wisdom of scripture, I find myself comforted and encouraged by the written word. The creaks and swishes and crinkles pages make when you turn them. I have carefully cared for George Brett’s Born to Hit and Pete Rose’s Winning Baseball since I first read them as an elementary student. They still hold sacred space on the bookshelf at home and are joined by a few hundred other book-friends whose stories have captured my imagination and encouraged me to take risks, never give up, and trust that Love is the strongest power in the universe.

Byron writes epic book reviews on his blog for Hearts & Minds Books. He has reviewed some of my books over the years and I am always humbled and honored by his words, his insight, and his help in growing as a writer and reader and person who wants to mature in my faith in these crazy days. Thanks to books he’s recommended, I’ve had countless conversations with friends and storytellers, writing notes in the margins, holding on to quotes as precious gems, occasionally trying to track down an author and send them an email thanking them for their words and work.

This post is a tip of the hat to Byron’s amazing work in Pennsylvania at the best bookstore in the country, introducing you to a few of my book-friends that have walked with me over the past couple of years.

The Echo Within by Robert Benson. Byron sent me this book as a surprise and I loved it. I wrote to Benson and thanked him for his words only to receive a postcard in return saying I could call him at my convenience. A couple weeks later, Benson came to KC as part of his book tour and took me to dinner at an Italian restaurant. “This world is desperate for good sentences, for good stories, and for those who are willing to do the hard work necessary to bring them to life.” When Benson endorsed my first novel Dreamfield, I couldn’t stop smiling for a week.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. This book taught me how to fight Resistance, the true enemy of all creative work. At the very end of the book Pressfield wrote, “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. I listened to this book in my van. I don’t remember where I was going, but when I heard this phrase, I pulled the van over in a parking lot and wrote it down word by word, punctuated as I heard her read it, because it so caught me off-guard. “Baseball can give us back ourselves…Baseball, if we love it, gives us back our place in the crowd. It restores us…Baseball, like life, throbs with hope, or it wouldn’t exist.”

Together is Better by Simon Sinek. A short, illustrated book of intense inspiration. One day, I’d like to write a book like this. “A vision is like a dream — it will disappear unless we do something with it. Do something big or do something small. But stop wondering and go on an adventure.”

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. What a beautiful work on life as a creative. This quote is in the first chapter. It took me several days to get past it. “We must risk delight. We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I don’t think J.K. Rowling is a baseball fan, else I’d do everything I could to find a way for her to endorse the Catch 365 book. Then again, I didn’t know how much I loved Quidditch or that I am a Gryffindor until I read her books. “We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. “All good stories deserve a little embellishment,” said Gandalf. Creative freedom. Same thing.

Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella. “If I had my life to live over again, I’d take more chances. I’d want more passion in my life. Less fear and more passion, more risk. Even if you fail, you’ve still taken a risk.”

My hope is to write stories that attempt to capture the passionate zest for life John Keating, the audacious hope and belief in other people of Mr. Magorium, and the playful, cooperative spirit of Kid President.

Books like that will make really good friends.