This is the time when I traditionally pick my favorite title of the year. Looking back on 2008 (and my sagging bookshelves) I see that I had many new favorites in the past months. This is just a sampling of books that stayed with me long after I finished reading them.

It was only a few weeks ago that I discovered  Geri Larkin, but I think of her as an old friend. I’m equally wild about her Plant Seed, Pull Weed and The Chocolate Cake Sutra. Both are wise collections of life lessons from an author who obviously pays attention.

Another book that didn’t get nearly the attention it deserved is Thomas Moore’s A Life at Work which is a thoughtful exploration of the importance of discovering your right livelihood.

Getting a Grip by France Moore Lappe is another special title from the visionary author of Diet for a Small Planet. This one’s a call to action using the power of creativity to solve global problems.

Since I also spent a fair amount of time reading books about storytelling, I found one real standout: Annette Simmons’ Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins.  It’s a wonderful handbook on using story in business.

Not surprisingly, my list of favorites includes some fine personal storytelling. A book I couldn’t stop thinking about is Rafe Esquith’s Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire, which isn’t just a book for teachers. It’s a passionate account of the power of learning.  You’ll wish every child you care about could spend a year in Esquith’s classroom.

Although the competition was stiff, there was one book, which I read early in the year, that beat out all others for first place on my list. That book is Bill Strickland’s  Make the Impossible Possible. Strickland’s personal journey is an inspiration—and so are the ideas that he shares.  

He eloquently tells how a chance encounter with an artist put him on a new path in his teens. Especially fascinating to me is his commitment to merging art and commerce and using both to change lives in dramatic ways. This may be one of the best stories ever showing how commitment to a vision can be the start of something extraordinary. 

When President Obama begins inviting innovators to the White House, I hope Bill Strickland gets a regular invitation.

I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet gone ourselves. ~ E.M. Forster

Mythology and literature have frequently told tales of people who went on a journey and in the process discovered more about themselves. Some of these stories, such as Homer’s Odyssey (written in the 9th century BC) and Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (from the 14th century), remain staples in literature classes. What these early writers show us is still true today: travel opens us to new insights as well as new experiences.

A newer story that uses this device is the lovely little book by Paulo Coehlo called The Alchemist. This popular favorite chronicles the adventures of Santiago, a young Andalusan shepherd who leaves home only to encounter obstacles, dangers and a fair share of mystical experiences. It’s one of the more poetic modern tales about the importance of following the dreams of your heart.

As in all stories of courage, we are reminded here that the road to our dreams is not without pitfalls. I carry around with me Coehlo’s insightful words about that truth. “Too often we decide to follow a path that is not really our own, one that others have set for us,” he writes. “We forget that whichever way we go, the price is the same: in both cases, we will pass through both difficult and happy moments. But when we are living our dream, the difficulties we encounter make sense.”

If you haven’t met The Alchemist yet, add it to your reading list and you may just find your own commitment to your dreams growing stronger.