You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know

3.6 31
by Heather Sellers

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An unusual and uncommonly moving family memoir, with a twist that give new meaning to hindsight, insight, and forgiveness.

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


An unusual and uncommonly moving family memoir, with a twist that give new meaning to hindsight, insight, and forgiveness.

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As a child, Sellers moved between households; her alcoholic father drank all night, slept all day, and wore women's clothing on evenings out. Her schizophrenic mother provided no respite; windows were nailed shut in her house, light bulbs were bare, sponge baths were taken in the garage. Sellers remembers watching kids play and "wondering which ones had mothers who would adopt an extra girl." But it's her realization that she suffers from prosopagnosia (face blindness) that ultimately propels her to seek professional help. At her core, she learns, she is a product of her condition; she'd never married, had no children, constantly sought new houses, jobs, cities, people. She was "only comfortable in ambivalence." To recover she must utterly change her life. In one excruciating incident, Seller's listens to a companion complain about a co-worker seated, unbeknownst to her coworker, nearby; though Sellers can see him, she can't recognize him, ultimately ruining another friendship. But with the help of a therapist, Sellers begins telling people about her condition. Sellers handles the jagged transitions between past and present deftly, explaining her life as a story of "how we love each other in spite of immense limitations." (Oct.)
The Elle's Lettres Readers' Prize 2010

Although it sounds like a train wreck, almost every reader loved this plucky self-portrait…

October 2010 Issue
By Heather Sellers

The ELLE’S LETTRES Readers’ Prize 2010

Every month, 15 ELLE readers vote for their favorite book among three new releases we love.
1. Heather Sellers
Although it sounds like a train wreck, almost every reader loved this plucky self-portrait: Her parents chronically beset by mental illness, alcoholism, and domestic dysfunction, Sellers herself struggles with face blindness, a neurological disorder that makes people literally unrecognizable to her.
MARIE CLAIRE October 2010 Issue YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE ANYONE I KNOW By Heather Sellers

QA: Do I Know You?

Heather Sellers can’t remember anyone’s face- not her mom’s, her boyfriend’s or even her own.

For years she thought she was crazy: Why couldn’t she recognize anyone’s face? Then Heather Sellers learned the truth. She has a neurological syndrome called prosopagnosia, or “face-blindness.” We spoke with the 46-year-old English professor at Hope College in Michigan about her new memoir, You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know.

Q: It’s hard to picture this syndrome- what do you see when you look at a face?
A: I probably see exactly what you do. But when I look away, I don’t remember it- I have no ability to store an image of the human face. I have to go by hair, context, and body type to recognize people. It’s a memory problem, not a vision problem.

Q: How common is prosopagnosia?
A: I have a serious case; others have more mild cases. Studies show that 1 out of 50 people are affected to some degree. It can be caused by a stroke, head injuries, or diseases; or you can be born with it, like I was.

Q: When did you pinpoint the problem?
A: I always knew something was wrong. But I was a super-weird kid- kind of intellectual and dramatic, so my parents just dismissed it. I didn’t understand what the problem was, but it affected me hugely; I have horrible memories of being on the school swim team, with everyone wearing the exact same suit. In college, I was diagnosed with anxiety. But about five years ago, in my research, I came across the term “prosopagnosia” and knew instantly.

Q: How do you cope at work?
A: When I got my first professor job, I’d quietly write down the name and description of everyone I met. Now that I’m “out,” I love talking about it, especially with my students. I tell them on the first day of class.

Q: And in your dating life?

A: I tell men up front so they’re not upset when I don’t recognize them on the street. And, I suppose, there’s an upside to my condition: I don’t take in the surface stuff. Movie stars drive me crazy. Beautiful people all look so similar, with their perfect hair and bodies, that I can’t tell them apart on-screen. The more odd people look, the easier it is to identify them.

– Anna Maltby

Mary Roach
It sometimes appears that contemporary memoir has become a game of misery poker, authors competing for the most appalling hand of woes. Face blindness would seem to be a trump card, but Sellers doesn't play it that way. On the contrary…She views prosopagnosia as a gift…[and] believes her condition helped her as a writer by forcing her to focus on "the essence of the person," not the surface. The writing bears this out. Sellers captures the people in her life in spare, perfect strokes…Her calm, glass-half-full-to-­overflowing worldview could, in another writer's hands, veer toward treacle, but she pulls it off beautifully.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
"You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know does not read like any memoir you know...Unless I've got prose blindness, Sellers is an ace...Her calm, glass-half- full-to-overflowing worldview could, in another writer's hands, veer towards treacle, but she pulls it off beautifully. I predict exciting things for her: critical acclaim, hearty sales, and, perhaps best of all, long lines of strangers at every reading."
The New York Times Book Review

"Never forget a face? What if you couldn't remember any? Sellers...learns to appreciate the upside: Being blind to faces makes it easier to see herself and those she loves as they really are."
PEOPLE, four star review

"Although [Sellers] can't recognize others, in this book she has managed to find herself."

"Stunning...This is a memoir to be devoured in great chunks. The pleasure of reading it derives both from its graceful style and from its ultimate lesson: that seeing our past for what it really was, and forgiving those involved, frees us up to love them all the more, despite their (and our) limitations."

Library Journal - BookSmack!
Sellers thought there was something wrong with her while growing up. It turns out there was, but not what she thought. This memoir chronicles her path to understanding and acceptance of an incredible combination of bad genes and bad luck. The book is both a gripping portrait of a dangerously conducted family life (mentally ill mother; cross-dressing father) and beautifully written reflection on the ability to see and, ultimately, understand the incomprehensible-her own rare neurologic impairment. Focused through the odd lens of prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize or recall faces, her story is less about neurology and more about clarity.What I'm Telling My Friends: Since I like you, I'm telling you to read this. We could all use a little refresher course on recognizing love, even in its imperfect forms. Therese Purcell Nielsen, "Memoir Short Takes," Booksmack! 10/7/10
Kirkus Reviews

One woman's struggle with a rare neurological illness.

Sellers (Creative Writing/Hope Coll.;Chapter After Chapter, 2009, etc.) weaves a tale in which the adult version of herself pushes back against the adolescent version in search of the impetus of her illness, prosopagnosia. More commonly known as face blindness, it renders the victim incapable of differentiating between faces. The author discovered it while waiting in line at Walgreens. After staring at the celebrities on the cover ofPeople, she realized, "I recognized the names—Jennifer Aniston, Angelina Jolie, Britney, Jessica—but not the faces." Her problem worsened as she embarked on a new relationship with her soon-to-be husband, Dave, whose previous wife suffered mental problems, and whom Sellers believes understands her own problems because his last marriage forced him "to pitch a tent in the land of the insane." On a trip to Disney World with Dave and his children, she suddenly felt alone amid the swelling crowd, becoming frantic and shouting for the children. When she finally stumbled upon them, a dumbfounded stepson said, "She looked right at me," to which Sellers could only reply, "I didn't see." The author frequently switches the narrative back to her adolescence, recounting a family life in which her cross-dressing, alcoholic father played a unique foil to her paranoid schizophrenic mother. Sellers endured the worst from both parents, and she searched for escape during her freshman year of college. Yet she soon discovered that despite her difficulties with her psychologically unstable parents, she remained connected to them, particularly her mother, whose schizophrenic behavior, she believes, was just a few shades away from her own face blindness. For Sellers, every interaction is predicated by the knowledge that she will not recognize the person she's interacting with—a problem that cannot be solved, only accepted.

A gripping personal account of the mental effects of an unyielding medical condition.

Product Details

Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.70(d)


Meet the Author

Heather Sellers is the author of the story collection Georgia Under Water and several books on writing. A poet, essayist, and frequent contributor to O: The Oprah Magazine, The Sun, and other publications, she teaches at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

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You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Prepare yourself for sorrow and stark reality in You Don't Look like Anyone I Know. Illness propels this memoir, but the author's self-discovery of her face blindness and demands that her neurologist properly diagnose her, far outweighed any disquietude experienced by this reader. Coping with face blindness, the inability to recognize faces reliably seemed to me a secondary theme of this incredible memoir. Ms. Sellers' real triumph was surviving the war zone created by the illnesses of her parents. Her mother's paranoid tendencies, magnified by her protective instincts toward her children, were bizarre. Desperately desirous but fearful of seeing her father, Sellers manages to come to grips with his philandering and cross-dressing. In her book trailer, Ms. Sellers explains that prosopagnosia is a memory not a visual problem. She writes charitably and honestly about the family that branded her the crazy one. I didn't mind that her writing lacked cohesion at times. I thought it accurately reflected the chaos of her childhood. She manages to keep enough distance between herself and her story that I saw no self-pity. Rather she spoke graciously of her parents. At the end of her memoir she states that "deeply flawed love and deeply flawed vision can coexist." Reviewing a disturbing book is difficult. Many other reviewers have complained about yet another "disturbing childhood/dysfunctional family memoir." I agree many of those exist, but I submit that a book review is just that-a comment on the world the author has painted, not a woe-is-me about the reviewer's reading history. Despite the title, I found this memoir less about face blindness and more about the strength Ms. Sellers gleaned from her survival and her courage to trust her own perceptions. For a comfortable, relaxing read, find a romance novel. To unearth hard-hitting reality, sink your teeth into You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know. Reviewed by Holly Weiss, author of Crestmont
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I looked forward to reading this book, but honestly, I couldn't get past the first couple of chapters. The author really intends for the readers to believe she's taking a trip to see her parents and expects they will be "normal" (after what she supposedly went through as a child)? Really? I couldn't get past the first few chapters because it was so ridiculous a grown and educated woman would return to visit parents who she knows are mentally ill, and expect behavior vastly different. Also, the first few chapters contain numerous direct quotes involving conversations. I'm supposed to believe this is a nonfiction book when every conversation is direct quoted? Did she tape-record all of these conversations to know how to direct quote them? Again, it was a turn-off. Sorry, but I can't recommend this book. I think it's a work of fiction (as most memoirs are).
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to keep reminding myself this book is nonfiction. Love the way it's written, as if it's a novel--an interesting treatment for the subject. So hard to imagine living through such a childhood and coming out whole.
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Angie Lampman More than 1 year ago
I had expected more! Although I found Heather Sellers' writing style pulling me in, I kept thinking there would be more that what I got. Don't get me wrong...I enjoyed the book, learning about prosopagnosia and what Heather endured but some of her story read like fiction. I sometimes forgot that it was a biography because some of it seemed a little far-fetched. It was OK....and I can't say that I wouldn't recommend....but I'd be picky who I recommended it to.
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Kaydebee More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. My husband met Heather and told me about the book, he even purchased the book for me. I found the story very moving.
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librarygal50 More than 1 year ago
Loved the book!! It is hard to believe that any child can live through a childhood like this and succeed. I would recommend this book and did not mind buying this. I had trouble tearing myself away.
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