Let's Face the Music and Read

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The power of song can champion world problems in a manner that few mediums can match. Now, Deborah Pardes, a San Francisco singer/songwriter who in 2000 founded the San Francisco-based Songs Inspired by Literature (SIBL) Project, thinks music can help literacy programs -- especially if she gets a little help from her friends, independent booksellers.

"There are 4,000 literacy programs out there," Pardes told BTW, noting that many illiterate people either are too embarrassed to seek these programs out, or are simply unaware of their existence. "Literacy programs need a vehicle, and we can help that. The SIBL Project is committed to reaching readers and nonreaders alike."

Toward that end, the nonprofit SIBL Project released its first benefit CD, Songs Inspired by Literature, Chapter One, on February 8. The CD is a compilation of 16 songs and features performances by such artists as Bruce Springsteen, Suzanne Vega, Grace Slick, Ray Manzarek, and Aimee Mann, as well as up-and-coming artists. The CD was featured in Book Sense’s February white box, and proceeds from the sale of the $15 CD will directly benefit literacy projects that serve over 44 million American adults who can’t read above the fifth grade level.

According to Pardes -- who performs her composition "7th Step," a song inspired by Frank McCourt’s memoir Angela’s Ashes, on Songs -- independent booksellers will be the primary outlets for the SIBL CDs, something she is very "excited about."

"Most readers don’t know what it’s like to not read," Pardes said. "We need the literate community to do this. [The CD] gives the … bookselling community a vehicle that’s easy for them to use to help combat illiteracy." What’s more, the CD potentially can inspire literate, nonreaders, to read again, she added. "Sixty percent of the population hasn’t read a book in 10 years -- we need to change that."

Pardes’s hope is that booksellers will design in-store displays of the CD, along with the books that inspired the songwriters. SIBL is offering bookstores a 5" x 5" counter point-of-purchase (POP) display to showcase the album. "And then booksellers can display the books around the POP," she suggested. "We’re just asking bookstores to try it for one run … people would like to see bookstores promoting literacy, I think."

Pardes offers other suggestions for booksellers, such as holding "hybrid" evenings, where bookstores have open-mike nights, inviting local singer/songwriters to perform original songs inspired by books. "It’d be a great way to connect people," she said.

Of course, at the end of the day, everything depends on the CD: If Songs isn't good, it won't sell. A subjective matter, to be sure, but thus far, word from booksellers and others regarding Songs is extremely positive.

"The CD is very playable in the store," said William Horan, a bookseller at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California. "It’s good music. I put it on in the store without telling anyone, and employees and customers alike came up to me and asked me what the CD was, and how could they get one."

Horan said that SIBL will be participating in Book Passage’s 25th anniversary party on Saturday, March 9. The SIBL CDs, along with the song-inspiring literature, will be placed prominently on a display table in the store. Additionally, Justin Wells and Pardes, two singer/songwriters featured on Songs Inspired by Literature are scheduled to perform and sign CDs at Book Passage during the day.

For more information, or to order CDs, contact Deborah Pardes via e-mail at [email protected], or order online at www.siblproject.org. -- David Grogan