Hail To The Bookworm

First lady Laura Bush invoked "the pure joy of the bookworm" on Saturday as she opened a weekend festival devoted to books, their writers and fellow book lovers everywhere.

In clusters of large white tents stretching across the Capitol's broad lawns, the second National Book Festival lured readers with more than 70 authors, storytellers, book illustrators, singers, actors and a squad of professional basketball players spreading the message that "reading is cool."

That was Mrs. Bush's message as well.

"Let this festival remind us of the pure joy of the bookworm — the one who sits in a quiet corner and focuses on just one thing, devouring a story or argument or idea unfolding on the written page," she said as she opened the festival before an invited audience of authors gathered in the East Room of the White House.

"Our love of reading is what makes us tuck a paper under our arm on the way to work," the former school librarian said. "It's why our bedside tables include piles of books that we read before we fall asleep, or continue reading long after we should be asleep."

The festival, modeled on those Mrs. Bush organized when President Bush was governor of Texas, had its first run last year. Mrs. Bush, said Librarian of Congress James Billington, is the festival's "founding mother, guiding hand and continuing inspiration." Under her leadership, he said, the festival has become "a fun, free, all-day showcase for the pleasures and experiences of reading."

She was accompanied on her festival rounds by "my friend and fellow book lover," Lyudmila Putin, wife of President Vladimir Putin of Russia. Speaking to the East Room audience, the Russian first lady said she hoped to organize a book festival of her own in Moscow.

Washington Wizards basketball player Jerry Stackhouse and mystery writer Mary Higgins Clark also praised the power of reading. And American Indian poet Luci Tapahanso, a Navajo, had an invitation:

"Let us walk into the future toward the hopeful worlds of all of our grandparents in their love of language which sustains us all," she said.

Stackhouse and other current and retired men's and women's basketball players appeared at the festival as part of a National Basketball Association's "Read to Achieve" program to inculcate a love of reading in young people.

Since her husband took office last year, Mrs. Bush also has held three White House symposiums on American literature, honoring the works of Mark Twain, the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and women authors of the West.

Among those taking part in Saturday's festival were history writers David McCullough, David Levering Lewis, David Halberstam, Gail Buckley, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Edmund Morris; fiction authors Anita Shreve and Christopher Buckley; children's authors Eric Carle and Carmen Agra Deedy; and U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins

The Library of Congress also conducted a conservation clinic on how to preserve family letters and albums. Another tent spotlighted national and local reading programs.
By LAWRENCE L. KNUTSON
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