By MATT RAYMOND
The two creators of the National Book Festival reunited on stage to celebrate the 10th annual version of the event.
Former first lady Laura Bush, discussing her memoir, “Spoken from the Heart,” was introduced by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington as the “reader-in-chief of the United States,” an appellation he also had used during her eight years in the White House as host of the festival.
“I spent most of my life surrounded by books,” said Bush, a trained librarian. “My mother and I were regular fixtures at the Midland (Texas) Public Library. … But while I loved reading, I never thought I would write a book.”
When publishers approached her about writing her memoirs, the former first lady said she “realized that there was, in fact, a lot that (she) wanted to say” about the historic events she had experienced.
Bush met with Billington in 2001 to discuss bringing a book festival to the national stage. The event came together quickly, attracting some 30,000 attendees on Sept. 8, 2001.
“Many of my happiest and most enduring memories are of the National Book Festival,” she said. “But I especially recall that first National Book Festival.” She then read a passage from her book that centered on the terrorist attacks that occurred just three days later.
Bush had been on Capitol Hill on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, to testify at a hearing on education that was canceled after two planes struck the World Trade Center. Instead, she met with Sen. Ted Kennedy in his office, describing an “unreal” situation in which neither of them mentioned the horror playing out on a television across the room.
“I’ve often wondered if all the small talk that morning was Ted Kennedy’s defense mechanism, if after (the tragic deaths of several family members), he simply could not look upon another grievous tragedy.”
Bush was taken that morning to the White House after the Capitol was evacuated. Her voice broke when she recalled talking with her daughters later in the day.
She closed with another National Book Festival memory, from 2002, when historian David McCullough discussed his book “John Adams” and that Founding Father’s “quest for knowledge”: “We face a foe today who believes in enforced ignorance,” Bush quoted McCullough as saying. “We don’t.”