211. You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
Publication: Riverhead (October 14, 2010), ARC Paperback, 322pp / ISBN 1594487731
Genre: Non-Fiction, Memoir
Rating: Buy it
Read: October 25-26, 2010
Summary from Amazon:
Heather Sellers is face-blind– that is, she has prosopagnosia, a rare neurological condition that prevents her from reliably recognizing people’s faces. Growing up, unaware of the reason for her perpetual confusion and anxiety, she took what cues she could from speech, hairstyle, and gait. But she sometimes kissed a stranger, thinking he was her boyfriend, or failed to recognize even her own father and mother. She feared she must be crazy.
Yet it was her mother who nailed windows shut and covered them with blankets, made her daughter walk on her knees to spare the carpeting, had her practice secret words to use in the likely event of abduction. Her father went on weeklong “fishing trips” (aka benders), took in drifters, wore panty hose and bras under his regular clothes. Heather clung to a barely coherent story of a “normal” childhood in order to survive the one she had.
That fairy tale unraveled two decades later when Heather took the man she would marry home to meet her parents and began to discover the truth about her family and about herself. As she came at last to trust her own perceptions, she learned the gift of perspective: that embracing the past as it is allows us to let it go. And she illuminated a deeper truth-that even in the most flawed circumstances, love may be seen and felt.
I absolutely devoured this book. I read it every chance I had, and I even stayed up late one night to read just a bit more before falling asleep (I was barely conscious the next morning, but it was worth it!). It was offered to me as something like Augusten Burrough’s Running With Scissors, and that’s exactly what it reminded me of– except without the humor. Instead, it’s full of hope and love, something that I think wasn’t as evident in Running With Scissors (or if it was, it was buried under the black humor).
What I liked best about You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know is that it’s so relatable. Ms Sellers grew up in a crazy environment, and her face blindness just exacerbated the problem. She didn’t have Mr Burrough’s knowledge that something was wrong with how she was living. She knew her parents were weird (“peculiar,” is how she puts it), but she didn’t know that they had actual mental illnesses until she was in her 40’s. She didn’t even know that she herself had face blindness– she just thought she was crazy!
Reading about her journey to work all this out and then come to terms with it (which does take a while) was really fascinating, and I felt great empathy for her. By the end it was clear that by getting a grip on her prosopagnosia she could get a grip on the rest of the parts of her life, too, including her parents and her relationship with her (ex-)husband. Maybe her self-confidence comes on a bit quickly after 200 pages of her vacillating between “is my mother schizophrenic or not,” but I’m glad that it happened, and that she can talk about her life so truthfully and freely now (as compared to when she was younger and apparently twisted things around to make them seem more normal).
It was just a really good book. The only real complaint I have is that the dialogue never sounded really real, like the things people would actually say. It sounded instead like how people talk in newspaper articles or magazine interviews– sort of stilted. But I got used to it eventually, and after a while it stopped bothering me. I don’t think it’s anything that would keep me from recommending this book to y’all! Because I think it’s a fantastic book, and I hope more people read it!
(This book is, by the way, Oprah’s November bookclub pick. If that’s the sort of thing that will keep you away, then…oh, I don’t know. Ignore it? TRUST MEEEEE instead!)
Watch Heather explain face blindness on Good Morning America.