Cover Image: Blind Man's Bluff

Blind Man's Bluff

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Blind Man's Bluff is James Tate Hill's aptly named memoir about losing his vision as a teenager and the resulting years in which he attempts to hide his vision loss, especially from strangers.  While this could have been a sad story, Hill is full of self-effacing humor and dry wit that make this an enjoyable read.  While his farce in hiding his vision loss may sound strange at first, Hill felt like an awkward teenager upon losing his sight -  old enough to know life with vision, but not old enough to feel confident in his new state as a vision impaired person.  The story follows him full circle from diagnosis to acceptance and all of the phases in between, as well as the effects this had on his personal life, including a troubled marriage.  There were aspects of his life that he breezes past, where I found myself wanting more, but all in all, an interesting and honest memoir.
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I’d like to thank the publisher and Netgalley for so generously providing me a digital copy of Blind Man’s Bluff. All opinions are, of course, my own.

I’m not really sure how I fully feel about this book. It kept my attention and I finished it rather quickly and I found Hill’s story interesting, and cringe-worthy at moments. However, the writing style was distracting and jarring at times.

Hill switches back and forth between first and second person often and I’m unsure of the reasoning for doing so but I did find It distracting at times. Also, the transitions were very jarring. We’d skip years (I think?) in just the next paragraph with no warning or explanation. I appreciate a book that that doesn’t include unnecessary information just for the sake of filling more pages but there were times I felt like we could have a little bit smoother transitions.

On the other hand, I appreciated JT’s humor and his perseverance. I also have no idea and I’ll likely never understand what it’s like to be in his position so I applaud him for doing what needed to be done for his own well-being. I do hope he feels more accepted and able to accept his disability and not feel ashamed or like he has to cover it up.

The friends that were great to him (mostly without being asked) were amazing. I grew rather frustrated with the girlfriends and others that. seemed annoyed with him for his vision impairment. I know this is only one side of the story but those were cringe-worthy moments.

Overall, I’d recommend the read if you enjoy memoirs or stories about people “overcoming” things in their life. I liked it quite a bit but I didn’t fall in love with it either. I also really love the cover art concept.
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It feels kind of weird to rate an autobiography, but I did like this one. 

It tells the journey of a boy who is slowly going blind. It's slow. Very slow. But also incredibly interesting. It's refreshing. He decides not to let his disability define him, often refusing to tell people and dealing with the consequences. The story isn't just about not being able to see, it's about his life in general. The hiccups. The triumphs. 

Overall, this book forces you to reexamine your own life and accessibility. I never realized that someone in my life could be secretly struggling and doing something small, like putting a dark colored spoon in a white dish, could be make the difference to them. 

I wouldn't call it a comedy, but this book provides evidence that a diagnosis doesn't mean defeat.
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I have been anticipating James Tate Hill's memoir for years, ever since I first read essays that would become pieces of Blind Man's Bluff. (A special favorite: "Everything You’ve Never Tasted in Taco Bell," published in the museum of americana's issue 15.) My wait is over, and I'm not disappointed. Hill's memoir opens in the middle of the end of a marriage in which his wife tells him "that a blind man could not make her happy." As a teen, Hill was diagnosed with Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy, which would leave him legally blind, but with an impairment that would allow him, if he looked up or to the side, to see something. It would allow him to eke by, passing for sighted. And it would prevent him from coming to terms with his blindness. Hill writes about this coming-to-terms journey, including ups and downs in relationships, as well as frustrations and triumphs as a writer. To great effect, he directs attention by switching tenses and points of view. The two most effective essays in the memoir are written in second person, involving you in his mindset, his rationale. You can't help but "see" him. This memoir is indeed a triumph, a culmination of years of reflection and revision, terms whose irony has not been lost on the sight-impaired author.  

[Thanks to W.W. Norton & Company and NetGalley for an opportunity to read an e-ARC of this book in exchange for my opinion.]
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Going blind at any age comes as a devastating blow. Losing one’s vision as a teenage boy just months after earning a driver’s license is a special kind of cruelty. James Tate Hill, in his moving memoir of vision loss, Blind Man’s Bluff, describes adjusting to a life of legal blindness as a 16 year old whose top priority is getting a girlfriend.

After his first noticeable loss of vision in one eye at 15, Hill decides to conceal and downplay his problem. “I hadn’t intended my low vision to be a secret until I noticed the way some people, the ones who knew, now regarded me.” In Hill’s telling, this approach to his disability amounts to social survival.

Low vision can be an invisible disability, especially in someone like Hill, who retains enough peripheral sight to get by in some settings and feigns eye contact consistently. “It wasn’t only that I refused to identify as blind. I wasn’t blind. I could still see things. And every day that I passed for the fully sighted person I used to be made it easier to believe there was nothing wrong.”

By staying quiet about what he cannot see, Hill manages to lull his friends and even his parents into a false understanding of his abilities. The failure of communication goes both ways; on occasions when Hill admits to poor vision, his friends remain remarkably uncurious about the details.

Hill convincingly portrays his insecure but resourceful teenage self and then his college-age self who make the choice, again and again, to minimize his blindness. At an initial visit to the hospital, a doctor misdiagnoses Hill with curable swelling of the optic nerve. His one question—"So I’m okay to drive?”—sums up his attitude. He can cope with anything so long as it doesn’t interfere with his social life.

The section describing the year-long period during which Hill loses his vision is the most affecting of this book, which later drags through his twenties as a perpetual student and frustrated writer. In the months after his diagnosis, heartbreak lives in the details, told with no trace of self-pity. Hill continues to buy new comic books every Friday as he always has, “hopeful that I might be able to read them again.”

After he receives an experimental medicine from a Japanese doctor, he tests his progress by staring at the fan on his bedroom ceiling. “For nearly a year, going back to the pair of steroid treatments and the incorrect diagnosis of optic neuritis, I had been watching the ceiling fan disappear.”

Hill weaves the alarming progression of his condition into the routine of his teenage life, which slowly shrinks to include just school and TV. In what he admits is a silver lining to his darkening world, he discovers books on tape. But he worries that listening to books isn’t the same as reading, and for a while he holds a print copy in his hands while he listens, guessing when to turn the page.

Hill grows up in West Virginia, and while he doesn’t anchor his story with dates, he creates a strong sense of time—late 1980s—through ample cultural references. He grows up with The Golden Girls, Designing Women, and Family Ties. He shops at Montgomery Ward, and Rain Man is the defining movie of his adolescence. 

The carefree ’80s and early ’90s were not a time of celebrating differences and acknowledging disabilities, and the technology to assist the blind was still cumbersome and scarce. Hill’s college provides few resources beyond textbooks on tape, and Hill makes clear his reluctance to use aids even when they are available.

While Hill does not emphasize this point, he also lacks role models and peer groups to help him navigate the challenges of his low vision. He knows only one blind person, an older man at church. When the man hears of Hill’s condition, he shakes his hand and offers, “Hang in there.”

It comes as little surprise that Hill’s ostrich-like approach to his vision problem is doomed. He never leaves the familiar setting of academia, attending master’s programs in writing and then becoming an instructor. His marriage to a fellow writer comes with all kinds of red flags, starting with her describing the relationship with him as “just so overwhelming.”

Hill’s eventual transformation happens not with an epiphany but in the mundane way that most seismic changes occur—little by little after things have gone badly for far too long. Hill sums up his realization this way: “In trying so hard not to be different, [I]’ve been a poor attempt at ordinary.”

The memoir is uneven, with stronger writing in the first third and unnecessary switches from first to second person throughout. But Hill’s account of low vision is a thought-provoking and emotionally powerful contribution to understanding vision loss. It’s also a revealing portrait of a teenage boy coping with difference.

“If I stare at things long enough, I like to tell people, they eventually come into focus, but this is not true,” Hill writes. With sensitivity and candor, Hill illuminates the importance of empathy and curiosity when communicating with someone whose disability cannot be seen.
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A great memoir gives the reader not captures some part of the writer's life but also offers a fresh perspective on the world. James Tate Hill's beautifully written BLIND MAN'S BLUFF does both. Its story begins when, at sixteen, Hill loses virtually all of his vision to a rare disease called Leber’s hereditary optic neuropathy. While his parents unsuccessfully attempt to find a cure, Hill himself concentrates on hiding his condition from his peers. The constant deceptions this involves give others the impression that his "bad eyes" are a minor problem and allow Hill to avoid feeling that he is burdening others. Yet they are also endlessly exhausting, occasionally dangerous (as for example when he crosses busy streets without a guide or a cane), and ultimately unsustainable. As he moves through college and graduate school, teaching and writing projects, friendships and marriage, it becomes increasingly clear that the strategies he devised to help him fit in socially actually isolate him as much or more than his blindness. Rich with telling details and moments, Hill's memoir reminds the sighted among us just how much we take for granted—how much our movement through both the physical and social world depends on visual cues and how hard it is to navigate without them. Just as powerfully, BLIND MAN'S BLUFF explores questions that affect all of us, sighted or not. What does it mean to be "normal," and when does the cost of seeming to be like everyone else rise too high? Is the willingness to ask for help a burden or a gift? Above all, perhaps, what happens to our relationships when we don't let others see us fully? James Tate Hill is a wry, skillful and soulful guide to these and other mysteries at the heart of human life; in BLIND MAN'S BLUFF, he allows us to see not only himself but also ourselves with new clarity.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing this book in exchange for an honest review.
The cover of this book and the title immediately pulled me in. I am legally blind too and I can really relate to a lot of what the author talks about. From navigating streets and sidewalks to not eating food at a party for fear of mishandling food, to not being able to read menus. He describes his struggles with trying to act like he's a fully sighted person. I admire him for his courage to write this book.
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An intimate and elegantly written memoir on coming to terms with blindness, James Tate Hill's memoir is captivating, Switching between 1st and 2nd person, Hill's prose is often as funny as it is insightful.  He writes about the lifespans of relationships and manuscripts, reminding us that "The problem with wanting to be an artist is that wanting to be one doesn't mean you get to be one."  Yet,  his love of writing and words shines through in lines such as, "And in the end, it's because you don't know why you keep writing that makes it seem like you should keep writing." 

The narrator expands into vulnerability, something particularly resonant this year. He writes, "Its' hard to trust that people like you when so much of yourself reminds hidden." 

This is a story of overcoming our own self-sabotaging habits, fears, and insecurities, highly relatable and uplifting while honest and entertaining.
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I don't often seek out the stories of men but this one had me. Going blind at an early age, he tried to hide it until he was nearly 30 by distracting people with his knowledge of pop culture! What a story! It was very readable and briskly paced. I couldn't quite relate to being so embarrassed by blindness I'd hide it but clever him!
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Interesting and readable. I liked seeing the progression of how assistive technologies and services for blind people evolved throughout JT's life.
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