Bill Clinton, once a president and now an author, offered a characteristic performance for the country's publishing community: late, long, but ultimately satisfying to the crowd.
The keynote speaker at BookExpo America, publishing's annual national convention, Clinton was here Thursday to promote his memoir, "My Life," which comes out June 22 with a first printing of 1.5 million.
Former President Bill Clinton will discuss "My Life," in an exclusive interview with Dan Rather to be broadcast on 60 Minutes, Sunday, June 20, 2004, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
It was not the most efficient of promotional events. Clinton began 30 minutes behind schedule and spoke for 45 minutes, 25 minutes longer than expected. But he left to the same noisy approval as when he arrived — a standing ovation. And he showed the knack for summing up a 950-page book in a couple of sentences.
"When I was a young man, getting out of law school, I said one of the goals I had in life was to write a great book," he explained. "I have no earthly idea if it's a great book. But it's a pretty good story."
Clinton's speech, covering everything from 18th century politics to 21st century genetics, mirrored what he said the memoir itself would comprise: personal memories, general history, political analysis. He said the book could be divided into two sections. First, how Clinton's "small life" growing up in the South came to intersect with the country's life. Then, a book about policy, "some will think too much. But I think it's important because the presidency is a deciding job," he said.
Clinton promised a thorough, even-handed book, with fond portraits of such former foes as Bob Dole and the first President George Bush. But he acknowledged "My Life" revived unwanted feelings, saying that memories of Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor whose investigation led to his impeachment, made him so angry he couldn't write for four hours.
Clinton did not specifically mention the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but said he addresses both personal and political mistakes in the book.
No BookExpo guest in memory was so welcome as Clinton, even though the delay led to some impatient clapping beforehand. The line for his speech formed in the late morning and extended the length of several city blocks, winding through the lobby of the McCormick Place Convention Center. The crowd was standing room only in the convention center's ballroom, which has a seating capacity of around 2,700.