By former President George W. Bush's reckoning, Miami Book Fair International was overdue inviting him down for an appearance.
``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.''
Call 2010 the Year of Publishing Upheaval. Bookstores, including the Borders in Aventura, continue to close. The market for digital books skyrocketed. The iPad, released in April, threw down the gauntlet, and the e-reader wars began in earnest. Responding to Apple's implied ``improve or die'' threat, Amazon dropped the price of its Kindle, while Barnes & Noble unveiled color capabilities for its Nook.
``It's like going to a celebration of books,'' says novelist Pat Conroy, who will appear as an ``Evening with. . . .'' speaker Thursday night. ``I love this book fair because it seems democratic. They let in small writers, beginning writers -- and big writers. It's a glorification of reading.''
The fair opens at 4 p.m. Sunday with former President George W. Bush, who will talk about his new memoir Decision Points to the lucky souls who managed to snare tickets before the event sold out in less than 10 minutes. Fittingly, the fair ends Nov. 21 with a presentation by Jonathan Franzen, whose novel Freedom deftly chronicles the effects of the Bush years on a Minnesota family. Such symmetry blossoms all over the fair, if you know where to look. You can find hilarity with Dave Barry and MSNBC's Willie Geist, crime served sardonic and serious with Carl Hiaasen and Scott Turow. And in what might be the oddest pairing, biologist-turned-novelist E.O. Wilson and rocker Patti Smith will appear Friday night. They won't share a stage, but maybe they should.
The fair features more than 350 writers over the course of its week at Miami Dade College's downtown Wolfson Campus. And don't think the writers have grown blasé about flying south this time of year.
``It's Madison Square Garden South. It's Carnegie Hall!'' says Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, who appears Tuesday night. ``You're toiling in anonymity, and your book comes out, and you hope anybody will notice it. The words you're too afraid to say are Frankfurt, London, Oprah -- and Miami.''
That famous Frankfurt Book Fair, incidentally, is pondering how to emphasize e-books; director Juergen Boos recently told Publisher's Weekly that he hoped the fair would build a role as ``a content and media fair.'' That description may not stir the soul of a reader who adores Salman Rushdie's love of language or Sebastian Junger's incisive reporting or Jennifer Egan's delightful, insightful deconstruction of pop culture. But Frankfurt's mulling of its digital future makes a certain amount of sense: A recent survey by technology and market-research company Forrester predicts U.S. e-book sales will reach $1 billion by the end of the year.
But of course, e-books are only a part of book sales. Right here, right now, people still like print. Book-fair chairperson and Books & Books owner Mitchell Kaplan agrees that ``we're in the middle of a sea change'' but notes that people still crave stories.
``There hasn't ever really been a shortage of readers,'' Kaplan says. ``Readers still want to read books and still have very strong interest in what authors have to say. What's happening in publishing and bookselling is that we're undergoing a massive change in the delivery system. It's a distribution issue more than anything else. Writers are writing great things, and readers want to read them. . . . In many ways, the book fair does it so perfectly. We're able to attract readership by having live authors.''
Personalities, of course, are what drive the fair: screenwriters Nora Ephron and John Waters; the scores of authors in the Spanish-language program; the graphic novelists and artists highlighted in The Comix Gallery; the high-profile guys such as Walter Mosley, Gay Talese and Simon Winchester.
``What's kind of interesting, as I've been looking at the pairings, is I've noticed there's a generational shift,'' Kaplan says. ``Look at the age of fiction writers coming. You'll see more in their 30s and 40s and even their 20s -- Julie Orringer, Jennifer Gilmore. . . . The whole McSweeney's crew and Dave Eggers, too.''
And then there are favorites such as Conroy, who laughs every time he remembers his first trip to the fair.
``I was signing with a very nice young writer named Anne Rice. We meet for the first time, she's as nice and pretty as she can be, and she took me to some darkened theater. I couldn't see anybody. I spoke first because I was unknown. I walked out there, and I'm trying to see the audience, and something's odd. Weird. I go back to Anne and say, `There's something really f----- up about this audience, and there's something wrong with their teeth.' She says, `Pat, those are fangs. These are my fans, not yours.' I had no idea!''
South Florida is inspirational to many of us (especially come January, despite the days of the frozen iguanas). But it's truly motivating to local writers, many of whom use oh-so-familiar landmarks in their work and will appear at this year's Miami Book Fair International.
Herald staffer and Friend of the Blog Howard Cohen talked to a few of those locals, including Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, who's been entertaining us with her sassy Lupe Solano thrillers for a few years now (and is, like most of us, a big fan of Versailles . . . I could use some cafe con leche right about now).
Check out Howard's story on Garcia-Aguilera, James Grippando and other writers who make South Florida their setting - and their home.
He didn't pull Harry Potter numbers - who does? - but former president George W. Bush sold more than 220,000 copies of his new memoir Decision Points through the first day of its release, with about 50,000 of those sales generated through e-book purchases, according to the Associated Press.
Publisher Random House reports that it's the highest one-day sale for one of its nonfiction titles since former President Bill Clinton's 2004 memoir My Life, which sold 400,000 on its debut day.
Decision Points came out Tuesday, with a first printing of 1.5 million. The former president appears at Miami Book Fair International at 4 p.m. Sunday, but if you don't have tickets already, you're out of luck.
Maybe the midterm elections should have predicted this, or maybe a former leader of the free world is always going to draw a crowd.
Either way, the tickets for former President George W. Bush's appearance at Miami Book Fair International sold out in less than 10 minutes on Monday, prompting a brief flurry of frustrated emails and phone calls (to me, anyway). Was there a conspiracy afoot? Were tickets not put on sale for "regular" people? ("regular" not being my word, but from one of the emails I received).
The Herald's Clark Spencer reports that some tickets were set aside for big shots, but tickets were made available for the public. They just sold out in a matter of minutes. The Chapman Conference Centerm where Bush will talk about his new memoir Decision Points, holds around 700 people, a pretty small venue for a former leader of the free world.
Political figures have always been popular at the fair; Al Gore and Madeleine Albright were standing-room-only events, and anybody who braved the lines at Barack Obama's event a few years back - before he was elected president, mind you - can attest to the popularity of politics among the usually left-leaning book fair crowds.
The 43rd president of the United States will open the 27th edition of Miami Book Fair International at 4 p.m. Nov. 14 to speak about his upcoming memoir, Decision Points (Crown, $35).
Bush's appearance ``speaks to the prestige we've been able to garner all these years,'' said Alina Interián, executive director of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. ``. . . It's quite timely so soon after the elections.''
Tickets cost $40 and include an autographed copy of the book, which reportedly covers the Bush presidency from the 2000 election through the financial crisis.
Tickets are scheduled to go on sale at noon Nov. 8 at http://miamibookfair.com/.
Bush is not the first member of the former first family to appear at the fair. Daughter Jenna presented her book Ana's Story in 2007, and his sister Doro Bush Koch appeared at the fair in 2006 with her memoir My Father, My President.
The fair runs from Nov. 14-21 at Miami Dade College's Wolfson campus in downtown Miami.
Events continue to shape up for this year's Miami Book Fair International, which runs Nov. 14-21 at Miami Dade College's Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami.
Nov. 14: Novelist Carlos Fuentes will appear at 7:30 p.m. He'll speak in Spanish with simultaneous translation in English by ProTranslating
Nov. 15: Humorist Nora Ephron, 8 p.m.
Nov. 16: Nonfiction writer Christopher McDougall, 6 p.m. and novelist RObert Goolrick, 8 p.m.
Nov. 17: Filmmaker John Waters, 8 p.m.
Nov. 18: Columnist Eugene Robinson, 6 p.m. and novelist Pat Conroy, 8 p.m.
Nov. 19: Scientist E.O. Wilson, 6 p.m. and rocker Patti Smith, 8 p.m.
Tickets for the "Evenings with . . .'' programs are $10. Info: 305-237-3258 or miamibookfair.com.
The fair will also show documentaries on Nov. 17 in the Auditorium. At 6 p.m. you can see The Soul of the People: Writing America's Story; at 7 p.m., Key West: Bohemia in the Arts.
This year's fair poster, which will adorn T-shirts, coffee mugs and tote bags, was also unveiled; it's by Alejandro Cabrera De La Mora, better known by his artistic name, Maximus Blanc. You can see more of his work at maximusblanc.com.
We are globally doomed, Jonathan Franzen's new novel insists. We fight endless wars, usually for profit. We're greedy and selfish. We lie and cheat and care little for human suffering. We put tremendous strain on the planet, reproducing without thought, destroying habitats and extinguishing other species at an astonishing rate. And those transgressions are nothing compared to what we do to the people we are supposed to love.
Franzen's first novel since The Corrections in 2001, Freedom is even more gloomy than that astounding epic of family dysfunction and postmodern malaise. Like its predecessor -- a National Book Award winner and Pulitzer finalist -- Freedom is full of regret, pain, infidelity, tragedy, stupidity, disastrous ego and careless manipulation. It's political and personal, surprisingly funny at times and devastatingly insightful, a grand examination of what's gone badly wrong on every level of contemporary life, from music (``I think the iPod is the true face of Republican politics,'' a character asserts) to mountaintop-removal mining. That Franzen, so adept at painting a vivid if not particularly flattering portrait of modern Americans, manages to sound even the faintest note of hope by the end is miraculous. But then, so is this book.
Freedom -- a more painfully ironic title never existed -- focuses on Patty and Walter Berglund, college sweethearts with two kids and a reputation around their gentrified St. Paul neighborhood as ``the super-guilty sort of liberals who needed to forgive everybody so their own good fortune could be forgiven; who lacked the courage of their privilege.'' Scrutiny reveals they aren't really all that privileged. Bright Walter is the son of a drunk and a mother worn to the bone by caring for the old man; Walter's brothers are cads, so he had to keep the household running even after he left for college. Former basketball star Patty (``Success at sports is the province of the almost empty head,'' she will write years later in her journal) doesn't even speak to her family once she wiggles free of their influential but neglectful sphere.
Still, as adults, the Berglunds are liked in the neighborhood until a dizzying fall from grace. Freedom begins with an overview of the Berglunds' descent, a succinct and compelling opening chapter detailing their reign on Ramsey Hill and eventual collapse. Then the story doubles back in time for a more intimate exploration of Patty and Walter and their relationship, defined by his insistence that she is ``a genuinely nice person.'' Patty's error, ``the really big life mistake, was to go along with Walter's version of her in spite of knowing that it wasn't right.''
Patty makes other really big life mistakes, too, among them preferring her difficult son Joey over her obedient daughter Jessica. Joey will become a terrible disappointment, choosing an unacceptable, possibly psychotic girlfriend far too early and an entirely different set of values from those of his parents. Freedom is nothing if not an indictment of the Bush years, but it does not let NPR-loving liberals off easily, either: the hideous compromises that ``greener than Greenpeace'' Walter makes to preserve a bird sanctuary are as ugly as the war profiteering to which Joey will eventually be drawn. Whatever side you're on, Franzen seems to tell us, you can still screw things up.
Nothing, however, is quite so devastating to the Berglunds' marriage and mental health as the influence of Walter's best buddy Richard, his college roommate, a musician careless with women and sex and, as it turns out, his closest friends. And yet Franzen never demonizes him. He only lets Richard remind us of how terribly fragile human bonds can be.
What links these troubled characters is their inability to reconcile this notion of freedom that we're all meant to enjoy. We're free to choose our destinies here in the U.S.A., and they have money, influence. They're ahead of the game. Why aren't they happy? Without a job and her kids grown, Patty grows depressed -- her neighbors might say she's unhinged -- sensing a ``more general freedom that she could see was killing her but she was nonetheless unable to let go of.'' She sees ``what it meant to have become a deeply unhappy person.''
Walter has the means to pursue his dream of rescuing the tiny, endangered cerulean warbler but can't save Patty from her self-hatred. After finally fleeing his parents' protective umbrella, even hard-headed Joey learns some tough lessons in being truly on his own: ``He was beginning to see, as he hadn't in St. Paul, that things' prices weren't always evident at first glance.''
But Franzen reveals a compassion for his characters in spite of their bad behavior. Patty ``pities the younger Patty standing there in the Fen City Co-op and innocently believing that she'd reached bottom: that, one way or another, the crisis would be resolved in the next five days.'' Such long-term crises as these characters face won't be resolved for decades, if ever. Maybe the Berglunds deserve redemption; maybe they don't. Either way, there's hope for all of them, Franzen promises in this marvelous book, the best novel of 2011 so far. There's hope for them after all.
The pieces aren't all in place yet, but the puzzle that is Miami Book Fair International is beginning to take shape.
Officials for the fair, which runs Nov. 14-21 at Miami Dade College's downtown Wolfson Campus, have confirmed appearances by authors including Jonathan Franzen, whose novel Freedom, due out Aug. 31, is one of fall's most anticipated books. Also confirmed: Ann Beattie (Walks With Men), Sebastian Junger (War), one-time prison poet Jimmy Santiago Baca (Adolescents on the Edge: Stories and Lessons to Transform Learning) and Jennifer Egan, at right (A Visit from the Goon Squad).
The "Evenings with . . . '' programs are not fully set, but here's a partial list:
Monday, Nov. 15: Actor Michael Caine and screenwriter Nora Ephron.
Thursday, Nov. 18: Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Eugene Robinson and novelist Pat Conroy.
Friday, Nov. 19: Pulitzer-winning biologist E.O. Wilson and rocker Patti Smith.
Tickets for the Evening with .‚.‚. '' appearances will cost $10 and go on sale later this fall. Tickets for the Nov. 19-21 street fair will be $8 for adults and $5 for seniors; kids under 18 will be admitted free.