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George W. Bush kicks off Miami Book Fair

By former President George W. Bush's reckoning, Miami Book Fair International was overdue inviting him down for an appearance.

Bushfair ``You've had my mother, my wife and my daughter,'' said the 43rd president of the United States to an appreciative crowd, many of whom whipped out cellphone cameras as he stepped on stage after book fair chairperson Mitchell Kaplan's introduction. ``You finally got to me.''

Bush kicked off the 27th edition of the fair at Miami Dade College's downtown Wolfson campus -- which also once hosted his sister Dorothy ``Doro'' Bush Koch, if you're counting, Mr. President -- by talking about his new memoir, Decision Points (Crown, $35). In an hourlong interview with Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, Bush discussed many of the topics about which he writes in the book: the disputed election of 2000, weapons of mass destruction, Sept. 11, controversial interrogation techniques in the wake of the attack, the surge in Iraq and his response to Hurricane Katrina.

There were also a couple of Barney jokes, great admiration for his father, George H.W. Bush (``Watching my dad be president was harder than being president''), and a few amusing stories about his mother, Barbara, whom he calls ``formidable.''

Decision Points was not, Bush said, ``an attempt to rewrite history'' or ``an attempt to refashion a legacy.'' The goal, he explained, was to take readers through the process of how he made the sorts of historical -- and sometimes unpopular -- decisions the commander in chief necessarily must make during his term.

He also writes about the personal choices -- namely his decision to stop drinking -- that shaped his presidency. The book's opening line: ``It was a simple question. `Can you remember the last day you didn't have a drink?' '' Wife Laura Bush asked, and her husband responded, though he drew laughter from the book fair crowd by confiding he once learned to drink a mug of beer without using his hands.

Decision Points, which was released last Tuesday, sold more than 220,000 copies on its first day, the highest one-day sale for one of the publisher's nonfiction titles since Bill Clinton's 2004 memoir My Life, which sold 400,000 copies on its debut.

The audience included such Republican dignitaries as Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- and FIU basketball coach Isiah Thomas (who, we must note, got a much worse seat than the politicians -- in the next-to-last row). The room was just shy of capacity, possibly due to the fact that on Sunday the event's start time was rescheduled from 4 p.m. to 3 p.m., always a problem for Miami's perpetually late-arriving crowds. People trickled in late, expecting to be on time.

Still, plenty of people were dutifully lined up by 2 p.m. outside the Conference Chapman Center to make sure they got seats.

``I was concerned I wouldn't get tickets, but I got 'em,'' said Ruben Aguilar of Miami Beach, who attended the inaugurations of both Bushes. A Republican whose dream agenda includes ``jobs, jobs, jobs,'' Aguilar joked that he's had to ``lay low'' for the past couple of years. He got to indulge in a little GOP bonding with his neighbors in line when he said, ``There are no Republicans in Miami Beach.'' Turns out there are, and one of them, Veronica Simon, was standing right in front of him.

Others said that Bush's appearance is just the start of what promises to be a good week. They'll be back to check out the rest of the fair, which continues Monday night with screenwriter Nora Ephron and runs through Nov. 21 at the college.

``We enjoy it,'' said Suzanne Roberts of Pinecrest. ``It's a wonderful cultural event.''

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