To make room on my shelf for more material, I sometimes part with items I have been stewarding over time. So it happened that several years ago I met Dr. James Mathew, a Thoreau enthusiast from India as well as a cardiologist who has resided in the Midwest for decades. With our mutual passion for the Transcendentalists, we came to know each other well. As we gained a sense of each other’s collections, we agreed that his home would be an ideal landing spot for some of the prime Transcendentalist pieces I had gathered over the last thirty years. When he told me he was thinking of honoring his father, T. G. Mathai, by naming the collection after him, I shared his enthusiasm. I asked him, “What is it in your father’s life that reflects the teachings to be found in Thoreau, Gandhi, Emerson, Tagore, Frederick Douglas, and others featured in your wonderful collection?” His ongoing answer developed into a short biography of his father that introduces Book of Books: Pearls from the Meandering Stream of Time that Runs across Continents.
There is something very compelling about reading the life of a noble villager in India, of a man who not only provided higher education for his eight children but also helped so many others in diverse ways, as an introduction to the humanistic and spiritual gems captured in Book of Books. A core belief of all the characters in this book is their unwavering commitment to, as Emerson put it, the infinitude of every person. Whether measuring the depths of Walden Pond, leading the Satyagraha movement for a country’s freedom from colonial rule, speaking out on the lecture circuit against the evils of slavery, or helping neighbors in a village in India, the exemplars in Book of Books shine a light on the power of heart speaking to heart over time across the globe.