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Bill Clinton Shines at Publishing Expo

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CHICAGO (AP) _ Tom Clancy, the novelist and political conservative, declared in a recent interview that Ronald Reagan would ``always be my president.'' But for many in the publishing community, which wrapped up its annual convention Sunday, their president remains Bill Clinton.

His keynote speech Thursday at BookExpo America became a celebration both of Clinton the president and of Clinton the author of ``My Life,'' which comes out June 22 with a first printing 1.5 million.

``He got this convention off to a great start and his book will continue the whole phenomenon of political books,'' said Oren Teicher, chief operating officer of the American Booksellers Association.

One can only guess how Clinton would have fared in an election against Reagan, who died Saturday at age 93. But as memoirists it is no contest. While ``Ronald Reagan: An American Life'' was a commercial disappointment, Clinton's ``My Life'' has booksellers so worked up that some have dared invoke the ``H'' word _ not Hillary but Harry, Harry Potter.

``It's the only thing I can compare this to,'' said Carla Cohen, co-owner of Politics & Prose, based in Washington, D.C.

Like some of Reagan's former political rivals, publishers and booksellers expressed disapproval of his policies but respect for his general appeal, an appeal apparent from best seller lists.

Books by and about Reagan, including ``I Love You, Nancy,'' and ``Reagan: A Life in Letters,'' have thrived in recent years and more are coming. The Free Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, is publishing a collection of his writings, ``Reagan's Path to Victory.'' Time Warner is releasing ``Ronnie & Nancy: The Long Climb _ 1911-1980,'' by Vanity Fair correspondent Bob Colacello.

``I'm a Democrat and I like Clinton, but Ronald Reagan lives in the hearts and minds of people in a way, frankly, that Clinton doesn't,'' said Laurence J. Kirshbaum, chairman of the Time Warner Book Group.

But conservatives fishing for liberal bias would have nabbed some prized catches at BookExpo.

Introducing Clinton on Thursday, publisher Sonny Mehta of Alfred A. Knopf inspired loud cheers when he wondered if Clinton would still be president were he permitted to serve a third term.

The head of the Association of American Publishers, Pat Schroeder, was once one of the most liberal members of Congress. Teicher of the American Booksellers Association worked under another leading Congressional liberal, former Rep. Richard Ottinger of New York.

When C-SPAN host Brian Lamb took an informal poll at a Saturday lunch gathering, the vote was overwhelmingly for Sen. John Kerry, the Democrat's presumptive nominee.

There were orange stickers worn by booksellers and librarians that read ``Amend the PATRIOT Act!'' which many fear will allow increased government surveillance of reading habits. There was a long line for autographs by Joseph Wilson, the former ambassador and critic of the Iraq war. And countless posters promoted new anti-President Bush books, including ``Overconfidence and War'' and ``Crimes Against Nature,'' by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Clinton's memoir captured most of the attention at BookExpo, but not all.

Great interest was expressed for Philip Roth's upcoming novel, ``The Plot Against America,'' which imagines the United States under the reign of President Charles Lindbergh. Other works likely to be heard about in the fall include novels by Tom Wolfe, Cynthia Ozick and Marilynne Robinson, whose ``Gilead'' is her first fiction since she debuted with ``Housekeeping'' in 1980.

``The reason it took this long is that I have many other interests,'' said Robinson, who has since written two nonfiction books and teaches at the University of Iowa.

``I'm glad to have this book done, but I wasn't really worried about it. And besides, with just one book I've doubled the number of novels I've written.''
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