Excerpt from Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Sounds Like Titanic

A Memoir

by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman

Sounds Like Titanic by  Jessica Chiccehitto  Hindman X
Sounds Like Titanic by  Jessica Chiccehitto  Hindman
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2019, 256 pages

    Feb 2020, 256 pages


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Print Excerpt

True Life
New York City, Spring 2004

Your internship ends at the company that is not the New York Times. You are still hoping to find a permanent job or at least a paid internship that has something to do with the Middle East or the two bloody wars your country is in the process of losing. But you cannot find anything. So you sign the contract to go on the God Bless America Tour, thinking that, among other things, the tour will be a way for you to earn enough money to ship yourself off to Baghdad or Beirut or Jerusalem or Cairo to work as a freelance reporter.

A few months before the tour starts, a college friend calls you out of the blue to offer you a well- paid temporary research job at MTV. You don't even need to interview, you just show up. For the first time since you moved to New York, you experience what it's like to be given a job that you aren't even remotely qualified for, because you know the right person, because you went to the right college. You know nothing about working in television, and less than nothing about MTV. The channel wasn't available in your town growing up; the family that owned the local cable company had banned it, citing its bad influence on the youth. Some kids with satellite dishes were able to get MTV, but the network didn't have the cultural influence on teenagers in your rural town as it did in other places. The teenagers in your town overwhelmingly preferred country music.

But now you work at MTV, for a show called True Life. You are given a desk beside a wall of TV screens where MTV's top ten videos play on an endless loop. As you work, Britney Spears struts behind you in stewardess lingerie, serving up "Toxic" again and again.

Your first assignment, your new boss tells you, is to find young teenage girls who are pregnant and interested in appearing on what is beginning to be called "reality television." You have no idea that the research you are about to begin is MTV's toe- dip into what will become not only a True Life special, but also an entire series called Teen Mom. No one knows this, not even the MTV executives, for no one has yet realized the potential for profit in the desperation of poor pregnant teenage girls. All MTV has done so far is hire a temporary researcher to see whether such a show would be possible, and if so, what it might be like. And that temporary researcher is you.

The casting call goes up on the MTV website, and your inbox fills with emails from pregnant teenage girls around America. They write from midwestern suburbs, from coastal cities, from poor urban neighborhoods just a few miles from where you sit in MTV's headquarters in Times Square. They write from the Appalachian South, in a grammar you recognize. You write back to some of them, ask them to tell you more. And they respond with stories about their lives, big and small. They write about being kicked off their sports teams for being pregnant, about boyfriends who are committed to them, about boyfriends who have already left. They write about failed birth control, religious views against abortion, their shame and excitement and uncertainty about being pregnant. They write about prom, volleyball, their failed algebra course, their dreams of college. They send you photos of themselves in what you will come to recognize as the universal pose of the American teenage girl: half- sassy, half- pleading.

And you can't help but think of yourself at their age: 14, 16, 18. Of your terrible choice in a high school boyfriend: Fernando, who called you stupid and cheated on you. And yet, as you read the stories of pregnant girls all over America, you remember that Fernando had been your only emissary from a different world, the elite Northeast. And you recognize in the pregnant girls' stories something in your own— the utter dependence on a high school boyfriend. You realize that if you had not slept with Fernando in high school, he would not have introduced you to the idea of a life in New York City, which means you wouldn't have applied to Columbia, and you would not now be sitting at your own desk at MTV, Times Square, New York City, America, the World, the Universe.

Excerpted from Sounds Like Titanic by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman. Copyright © 2019 by Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman. Used with permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.

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