By Hillel Italie
The Associated Press
The book world's annual national convention this week, BookExpo America, should mark the convergence of publishing, politics and star power.
At least on opening night.
Bill Clinton, former president and future best-selling memoirist, makes his first official stop on what his literary representative, attorney Robert Barnett, has billed "the mother and father of all rollouts." Clinton's memoir, My Life, is scheduled for release on June 22 with a first printing of 1.5 million.
"I can't remember anything at BookExpo that compares to this. I've never seen such anticipation," said Mitchell Kaplan, of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., and the incoming president of the American Booksellers Association, which represents independent bookstore owners.
BookExpo America, a gathering to be held at Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center, runs Thursday-Sunday.
Other ex-presidents have attended the convention, but not all have felt as welcome as Clinton. When former President Nixon appeared in 1979, it was hardly an appearance. He was guest of honor at a private dinner - no press allowed. Only later did reporters extract such tidbits as Nixon expounding on nuclear arms during the Eisenhower administration and later tossing his baby granddaughter into the air.
Clinton should boost spirits at a time when the industry is still recovering from last year's slump. Purchases fell by 23 million from the year before, down to 2.22 billion, even as a record 175,000 books came out, with big increases in religion and history titles.
Clinton's book will likely get most of the early attention, but the expo is also where the "buzz" books of the fall get buzzed. In recent years, Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections and Jhumpa Lahiri's The Namesake were established as pick hits thanks to word of mouth at BookExpo.
Politics will not end with Clinton's speech. Booksellers and publishers have been leading opponents of the Patriot Act, which permits secret warrants for business records of "books, records, papers, documents and other items" - language widely seen as covering bookstores and libraries.
Meanwhile, a year after Al Franken and Bill O'Reilly famously faced off at BookExpo, the convention will feature another luncheon panel of liberals (campaign strategist Donna Brazile and author Ron Suskind) against conservatives (author-humorist P.J. O'Rourke and commentator Linda Chavez).
Brian Lamb, host of C-Span's Book Notes, will be the moderator.
"Moderators can do one of two things: They can just step back and let people slug it out or they can act like a nanny, or a ninny, if you will," Lamb said.
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