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Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label "social deviant." No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be ...
Ever since he was small, John Robison had longed to connect with other people, but by the time he was a teenager, his odd habits—an inclination to blurt out non sequiturs, avoid eye contact, dismantle radios, and dig five-foot holes (and stick his younger brother in them)—had earned him the label "social deviant." No guidance came from his mother, who conversed with light fixtures, or his father, who spent evenings pickling himself in sherry. It was no wonder he gravitated to machines, which could, at least, be counted on. After fleeing his parents and dropping out of high school, his savant-like ability to visualize electronic circuits landed him a gig with KISS, for whom he created their legendary fire-breathing guitars. Later, he drifted into a "real" job, as an engineer for a major toy company. But the higher Robison rose in the company, the more he had to pretend to be "normal" and do what he simply couldn't: communicate. It wasn't worth the paycheck. It was not until he was forty that an insightful therapist told him he had the form of autism called Asperger's syndrome. That understanding transformed the way Robison saw himself—and the world. LOOK ME IN THE EYE is the moving, darkly funny story of growing up with Asperger's at a time when the diagnosis simply didn't exist. A born storyteller, Robison takes you inside the head of a boy whom teachers and other adults regarded as "defective," who could not avail himself of KISS's endless supply of groupies, and who still has a peculiar aversion to using people's given names (he calls his wife "Unit Two"). He also provides a fascinating reverse angle on the younger brother he left at the mercy of their nutty parents—the boy who would later change his name to Augusten Burroughs and write the bestselling memoir Running with Scissors. Ultimately, this is the story of Robison's journey from his world into ours, and his new life as a husband, father, and successful small business owner—repairing his beloved high-end automobiles. It's a strange, sly, indelible account—sometimes alien, yet always deeply human.
Although this memoir deals with some dark topics-including Asperger's syndrome, family alcoholism and mental illness-debut author Robison maintains a keen humor and sense of dramatic irony throughout. The gravelly voiced Robison proves to be a capable storyteller, whether describing the pranks he used to play on his much younger brother (Augusten Burroughs, who reads his foreword) or the relief of finally being diagnosed with Asperger's in middle age after a lifetime of social isolation and relatively odd behaviors. Robison is a vocal and emphatic advocate for Asperger's, which he insists is not a disease but a different-and sometimes better-neurology. Asperger's gave Robison a single-minded ability to focus on his love of electronics, giving him a place in the world as the wizard behind Kiss's smoking and flaming guitars or, later in life, a gift for diagnosing and fixing high-end imported cars. This memoir is highly entertaining and the abridgment is smoothly edited. Simultaneous release with the Crown hardcover (Reviews, July 9). (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
First-time writer Robison diagnosed himself with Asperger's syndrome after receiving Tony Attwood's groundbreaking work on the subject from a therapist friend ten years ago. In his well-written and fascinating memoir, the fifty-something brother of Augusten Burroughs (Running with Scissors) addresses the difficultly of growing up in a household with an abusive and alcoholic father, the social problems he encountered at school, and his great affinity for mechanics. It made no difference that he lacked a high school diploma-Robison's natural skills landed him work as an automobile restorer, Milton Bradley engineer, and stagehand responsible for the pyrotechnic guitars used by rock band KISS in the late 1970s. Despite these successes, the author suffered social difficulties while developing his ability to connect with and understand machines, a thread that is explored in great detail. If there is a drawback here, it is that readers do not get a strong sense of how his self-diagnosis impacted his life. But even among the growing number of books written by those diagnosed later in life, this entry is easily recommended for public and academic libraries with autism collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ5/15/07.]
“Deeply felt and often darkly funny, Look Me in the Eye is a delight.”
—People magazine (Critics Choice, 4 Stars)
“It's a fantastic life story (highlights include building guitars for KISS) told with grace, humor, and a bracing lack of sentimentality.”
“A highly entertaining, crazy ride...heartbreaking, inspiring and funny.”
“Lean, powerful in its descriptive accuracy and engaging in its understated humor...Emotionally gripping.”
“Robison’s lack of finesse with language is not only forgivable, but an asset to his story . . . His rigid sentences are arguably more telling of his condition than if he had created the most graceful prose this side of Proust.”
“Look Me in the Eye is a fantastic read that takes readers into the mind of an Aspergian both through its plot and through the calm, logical style in which Robison writes. . . Even if you have no personal connections with Asperger’ s, you’ll find that Robison—like his brother, Burroughs—has a life worth reading about.”
“Not only does Robison share with his famous brother, Augusten Burroughs (Running With Scissors), a talent for writing; he also has that same deadpan, biting humor that's so irresistible.”
“Dramatic and revealing...There's an endearing quality to Robison and his story that transcends the "Scissors" connection … Look Me in the Eye is often drolly funny and seldom angry or self-pitying. Even when describing his fear that he'd grow up to be a sociopathic killer, Robison brings a light touch to what could be construed as dark subject matter…Robison is also a natural storyteller and engaging conversationalist.”
—The Boston Globe
“This is no misery memoir…[Robison] is a gifted storyteller with a deadpan sense of humour and the book is a rollicking read.”
“Look Me in the Eye should be required reading for teachers and human services professionals, concerned parents and anyone who likes a well-crafted story of a life zestfully lived to the beat of wildly different drums.”
“Robison's memoir is must reading for its unblinking (as only an Aspergian can) glimpse into the life of a person who had to wait decades for the medical community to catch up with him.”
“Well-written and fascinating.” —Library Journal
“Thoughtful and thoroughly memorable…Moving…In the end, Robison succeeds in his goal of “helping those who are struggling to grow up or live with Asperger’s” to see how it “is not a disease” but “a way of being” that needs no cure except understanding and encouragement from others.”
“Affecting, on occasion surprisingly comic memoir about growing up with Asperger’s syndrome….The view from inside this little-understood disorder offers both cold comfort and real hope, which makes it an exceptionally useful contribution to the literature.”
“Of course this book is brilliant; my big brother wrote it. But even if it hadn’t been created by my big, lumbering, swearing, unshaven ‘early man’ sibling, this is as sweet and funny and sad and true and heartfelt a memoir as one could find, utterly unspoiled, uninfluenced, and original.”
—from the foreword by Augusten Burroughs, author of Running with Scissors
“Look Me In The Eye is a wonderful surprise on so many levels: it is compassionate, funny, and deeply insightful. By the end, I realized my vision of the world had undergone a slight but permanent alteration; I had taken for granted that our behavioral conventions were meaningful, when in fact they are arbitrary. That he is able to illuminate something so simple (but hidden, and unalterable) proves that John Elder Robison is at least as good a writer as he is an engineer, if not better.”
—Haven Kimmel (who was in attendance at the 1978 KISS tour*), author of A Girl Named Zippy
“I hugely enjoyed reading Look Me in the Eye. This book is a wild rollercoaster ride through John Robison’s life—from troubled teenage prankster to successful employment in electronics, music, and classic cars. A kindly professor introduced him to electrical engineering, which led to jobs where he found techie soulmates that were like him. A fascinating glimpse into the mind of an engineer which should be on the reading list of anyone who is interested in the human mind.”
—Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and Animals in Translation
“John Robison's book is an immensely affecting account of a life lived according to his gifts rather than his limitations. His story provides ample evidence for my belief that individuals on the autistic spectrum are just as capable of rich and productive lives as anyone else.”
—Daniel Tammet, author of Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
Excerpted from Look Me in the Eye by John Elder Robison Copyright © 2008 by John Elder Robison. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1. Recent studies indicate that autism affects 1 of every 150 people, or 1 of every 50 families. Do you know people who exhibit any of the traits Robison describes in his book? What do you notice about the way they interact with the world?
2. As a child growing up without a diagnosis, Robison was sometimes called names or labeled “deviant.” Knowing why he was different than others might have helped smooth his way. Today, more children are being diagnosed with Asperger’s than ever before. Discuss the advantages of early diagnosis. Might there also be disadvantages? How does a label affect how we treat someone? How does it affect the way we see ourselves?
3. “Different” kids like Robison are often teased or bullied at school. Does Robison’s story give you any ideas for preventing or stopping that behavior?
4. How would you describe Robison’s childhood? How did his parents contribute to the feelings of loneliness he suffered? How did the birth of his brother change his life?
5. Describe logical empathy. Does it differ from the kind of empathy that most people who don’t have Asperger’s syndrome feel? In Chapter 3, on page 32, Robison writes, “I cannot help thinking, based on the evidence, that many people who exhibit dramatic reactions to bad news involving strangers are hypocrites.” Do you think that’s true?
6. Robison describes the way his Asperger’s sometimes causes him to display inappropriate expressions. For example, he might smile when many people would frown. Have you known people whose facial expressions struck you as odd or overly blank? How did it make you feel, and how did you interpret their behavior?
7. In Chapter 6, “The Nightmare Years,” Robison writes about the new names he chooses for his parents with Dr. Finch’s help. What do they reveal about the family dynamic?
8. Robison describes his struggles in school, which culminated in his being invited to drop out. How might the school system have accommodated him?
9. As a teenager, Robison listened to older people ridicule his dreams of joining a band, yet he did it anyway and became very successful. What might have caused Robison to follow his heart despite contrary advice from friends and family? Did he know something they didn’t, or was it just luck that he succeeded?
10. Why does Robison pull what he calls “pranks”? Did any of them make you uncomfortable? In general, do you think pranks are a legitimate way for children or teenagers to express excess energy or frustration?
11. In Chapter 16, “One with the Machine,” Robison says, “Sometimes I think I can relate better to a good machine than any kind of person.” Discuss the reasons he gives for his affinity. Why might a person find comfort in machinery but not in people?
12. In the same chapter, Robison describes being “the brain of the lighting system” at a rock concert, which requires intense focus and concentration. “You must develop a sixth sense for your system, to feel how it’s doing, to be really great,” he writes. When you engage in an activity you love or at which you excel, are there times when you feel the almost magical sense of focus Robison describes? How is that state of mind different from ordinary consciousness?
13. Despite career advice from music industry insiders, Robison doesn’t want to move to a city. Compare the life he experiences when he’s on tour with KISS to his life back in Shutesbury. Why might the idea of living in a city be intimidating to someone with Asperger’s?
14. Robison describes life on the road with bands in the 1970s. Do you think the experience of traveling with a band would be the same today? Would the experience of traveling with a band be similar to that of traveling with another performing group like a theater company or circus?
15. bison writes that he can’t smile on command. How often do you smile “on command” whether you want to or not? How would not being able to automatically produce the expected facial expression make your work life more difficult? Your personal life?
16. As he explains in Chapter 20, “Logic vs. Small Talk,” Robison is also unable to perform the little verbal niceties that often pass for conversation. Questions like “How’s your wife?” or “Have you lost weight?” don’t occur to him when speaking with friends or acquaintances. Do you remember how you first learned to make small talk? Have you ever struggled with it? Are there any conventions of small talk that strike you as peculiar?
17. Robison describes himself as being very direct, and indeed that is a trait of people with Asperger’s. He says that’s both good and bad because some people appreciate directness while others are offended. What are some situations where directness would be of benefit, and where might it be a disadvantage? Why?
18. After his time with KISS and other rock ’n’ roll bands, Robison moved into the corporate world.What did he like about his job with Milton Bradley? What didn’t he like? How did he feel about his position in management? What made him decide to leave a financially comfortable life as an executive for the uncertainty of starting his own business?
19. Robison has described a number of ways in which he differs from other people. In Chapter 22, “Becoming Normal,” he writes about his transition from “Aspergian misfit” to “seeming almost normal.” How did his differences help him in operating his car business? How might they have hampered him?
20. What kind of father is Robison? How is he different from his own parents? Did anything in Chapter 23, “I Get a Bear Cub,” strike you as funny? How is “Cubby” like his father? How is he different?
21. In Chapter 24, “A Diagnosis at Forty,” Robison meets an insightful therapist who helps him realize that he has Asperger’s syndrome. What effect does this discovery have on Robison?
22. t times Robison calls his little brother Varmint and his wife Unit Two. Discuss Robison’s habit of renaming people. Why do you think he sometimes avoids people’s given names?
23. Discuss Robison’s relationship with his wife, Martha. What special challenges might exist in a marriage to someone with Asperger’s? What benefits?
24. In Chapter 26, “Units One Through Three,” Robison writes about choosing Martha over her two sisters, and about the impossibility of being certain that one has made the best possible choice in life. Do you think there is such a thing as a “best sister”? In the book, Martha answers with “depends what you want her for.” How would you answer that question?
25. When choosing a mate, we confront many pieces of folk wisdom, one of which is: Marry someone who’s similar to you; your shared interests will keep you together. An equally popular piece of advice is: Marry someone who’s different from you. Variety is the spice of life and opposites attract. Do you think a person with Asperger’s would do well to find a spouse who has Asperger’s too? Or would that person fare better with a spouse who doesn’t have Asperger’s? What might be the advantages and disadvantages of each?
26. What do you think of Robison’s writing style? Do you notice any quirks in the way he expresses himself that might have to do with Asperger’s syndrome
27. If you met someone tomorrow who acted a bit strange or eccentric, how might the insights from this story affect how you responded to that person?