Jessica Chiccehitto Hindman’s memoir, Sounds Like Titanic, has one of the best narrative setups of the year—or maybe ever. It’s about the nearly four years Hindman spent as a violinist in an ensemble led by a man whom she refers to only as the Composer. Hindman and the other musicians performed shows across America as part of a bizarre deception: The musicians didn't make the music, but it instead comes from a hidden CD player hooked up to the speakers.
Hindman has swapped her orchestral touring for book touring, and we reached out to find out how it’s been going.
What have you most enjoyed about interacting with your readership of Sounds Like Titanic?
Am I allowed to say receiving lavish praise from strangers? Because that is very enjoyable! On a more serious note, I would say that the most meaningful interactions I’ve had have been with women who are 20 to 30 years older than I am. I wrote the book for fellow millennials, but I’ve had a lot of response from baby boomers about their own struggles with body image. This has surprised me and led to some really emotional, important conversations.
When visiting a city for a book event, do you have any rituals, either for yourself or to get to know the city?
It’s funny—Sounds Like Titanic chronicles my time touring the country as a fake violinist in 2004. I haven’t traveled like that, from city to city, until now, on book tour. Many of the travel rituals of a fake violinist are the same as a real author: going for walks in the new city, going out to eat at a local restaurant, soaking it all in while also conserving energy for the actual “performance” or event.
What is the mark of a really great book event?
Reading and writing are solitary activities, whereas a book event is social. A good book event gets readers and writers interacting with each other in a way that is still comfortable for introverts.
If you could sit in the audience for an event with any author, living or dead, who would you like to see read from and discuss their book?
There is no way I can pick a single author or book for this – can I put together a dream conference instead?
- Panel #1: Good Wives: Louisa May Alcott in conversation with Jane Austen, moderated by Maxine Hong Kingston.
- Panel #2: Mockingbirds and Caged Birds: Maya Angelou in conversation with Harper Lee.
- Panel #3 is just Mark Twain getting grilled with difficult and uncomfortable questions from Virginia Woolf and Toni Morrison.
- Panel #4: Hey—That’s My Book!: Writers overlooked by history point out that they actually wrote the book that someone else took credit for.
- Panel #5: How to Be Brave and Good: A panel discussion with Frederick Douglass, George Orwell and Nawal El Saadawi, moderated by Barbara Ehrenreich.
Has a reader ever asked a question or made a comment at an event that made you see your work in a new light?
Yes, at my book launch, one of my work colleagues asked whether a female composer could get away with faking concerts like the Composer in my book, who is male. I hadn’t thought about it in exactly those terms before. And I realized that no, the Composer was able to fool audiences precisely because he fit what our society thinks a composer looks like: white, male, lots of hair, somewhat tortured-looking.
What is most challenging to discuss with readers about your book or the writing process?
The most challenging thing to discuss about my book is all of the things that I deliberately left out of the book. I worked really hard to make Sounds Like Titanic as honest and true as I could make it. It is a crafted narrative with a focused goal: to give readers the experience of one small slice of my life. But real life is much bigger than any one book, and there are many things I deliberately left out because I felt they were too personal or private to reveal about myself or the other characters, who are all real people with real feelings. Memoir is always an act of choosing what to reveal and, just as crucially, what not to.
Author photo by Vanessa Borer