The Great Surpasser

by Ken Stewart


It is not surprising that "I" and "my" occur very frequently in an autobiography, and not surprising that the references are predominantly favorable. It is quite apparent from the publisher's notes about the author, though, that Lawrence Scadden is by no means the only one who thinks highly of Lawrence Scadden. He has been the recipient of many highly prestigious awards, including the American Foundation for the Blind's Migel Award. And there is ample praise offered for other people in his life too. Although, in his preface, Scadden expresses reluctance to create an autobiography. He writes, "My goal in writing is to inform, entertain, and, hopefully for some, inspire."
For me, being entertained was ample payoff for listening to Bill Wallace masterfully narrate these 368 pages for the National Library Service. For someone newly struggling with the practical frustrations of blindness, there certainly should be potential for inspiration in these pages. And, for the sighted reader, the objective of informing should be well served. My entertainment flowed from his personal experiences such as being served a meal on board an airliner. The flight attendant asked, as she placed the plate in front of him, "Do you know how a plate is arranged by the clock?" He smiled and said that he did, and awaited her description of food locations on his plate. She responded, "Good," and moved on!
It was quite easy to identify with many of his travel experiences, such as smacking his head against the side view mirror on a large truck parked alongside the sidewalk as he navigated with his long white cane. Then there are his musings about how a brain which has "seen better times" visualizes recollections of past experiences. I have often contemplated the degree of visual acuity I seem to have in my dreams, doubtless drawing on residue from back when I could see better.
The author, a research psychologist with a doctorate, discusses extensively and fascinatingly about cognitive issues including synesthesia, a brain's associating particular numerals or words with particular colors. He cites the work of celebrated scientist-author Oliver Sacks. Again, I am reminded of my own mental operations, like including a vivid notion of compass direction in memories of long-ago events. Another segment of the text called to mind an attorney representing a parent opposing a school district in a hearing over which I was presiding as impartial hearing officer. That attorney asked me to recuse myself because my vision impairment would prevent me from judging the visual indications of a witness' truthfulness. My denial of the attorney's motion was based on a self-confident attitude, although not quite as cocky as Scadden's assertion, "I know I can read other people's voices better than anyone I know!"
Scadden started his education at the school for the blind in Los Angeles where he learned braille, but spent most of his school years in mainstream classrooms where he frequently reminded the teacher to verbalize what she was writing on the chalkboard. He was more assertive than I was. Through twelve years of public school education, I never once saw what was being written on the chalkboard from my front-row seat, but settled for sometimes walking up to look closely at the chalkboard after class.
Scadden's bicycle riding reminds me of riding my bike by following close behind the bike of a friend or family member. He comments on the echolocation used by all of us who move about depending at least partly on subtle sound clues. His description of utilizing what he heard of its bouncing and striking the backboard while playing with a basketball triggered some of my own basketball memories. Just recently I had a chance meeting with a fellow who was among those I played small-scale half-court basketball with down at the Village park decades ago. He reminded me that I brought with me a basketball in the colors used by the then-renegade American Basketball Association. The ABA ball was red, white and blue, and the other fellows at the court were willing to use it, realizing it was more visible for me.
Before this review of an autobiography morphs into an autobiography of the reviewer, let me finally assert this is a very readable work, likely to present a sound gain for anyone with a sight loss. "Surpassing Expectations" is available on a digital cartridge from any talking book library as DB68883.