First Night: Clinton takes to the stage for the ultimate sell

Bill Clinton book tour Chicago
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The Independent US

Twelve years after he boarded a bus at the Democrat convention in New York to travel America on a quest for the White House, Bill Clinton is on the road again. And once more he is selling himself. This time, though, he is looking for readers, not voters.

Twelve years after he boarded a bus at the Democrat convention in New York to travel America on a quest for the White House, Bill Clinton is on the road again. And once more he is selling himself. This time, though, he is looking for readers, not voters.

Welcome to "Clinton 2004", the book campaign. There are still almost three weeks to go before his 950-page autobiography, My Life , hits the bookshops in America, but you would think it was already out. It has been in Amazon's top 10 for more than a month. And Mr Clinton is already taking to the stage.

"A lot of presidential memoirs are dull and self-serving," he told a crowd of more than 2,000 at the annual BookExpo in Chicago on Thursday, in what amounted to a sneak preview of a book tour that will take him from coast to coast this summer. "I hope mine is interesting and self-serving".

Some things never change. Mr Clinton arrived half an hour late, prompting a slow handclap from his audience of booksellers, and spoke for 45 minutes - 25 minutes longer than expected. Details of the rest of the tour, which will begin in earnest after publication on 22 June, remain sketchy.

Modest it will not be. As his literary representative Robert Barnett said, this will be the "mother and father of all rollouts". The first printing will be for 1.5 million copies. Equally extravagant was the advance paid to the author, reported to have been between $10m and $12m (£5.5m and £6.5m).

That the book is even ready is something of a miracle. It is a barely kept secret that the publisher Knopf dispatched a senior editor to live with Mr Clinton in his New York home to keep him off the golf course.

He wrote it all in longhand, he revealed, filling 20 notebooks. What he ended up with, he said, is almost two books. "The first is the story of my life and the story of America and how my life interwove with America's story," he said. This part looks at his upbringing in Arkansas and the awakening of his political consciousness, particularly in the Sixties.

How Americans remember those years says much about their politics, Mr Clinton suggested. "If you look back on the Sixties," he said, "and think there was more good than bad, you're probably a Democrat. If you think there was more harm than good, you're probably a Republican." The second part is more about the presidency, questions of policy and discussions on the mistakes he made. There is a "lot of policy in it, some will say too much".

If Democrats are afraid that the publicity for Mr Clinton may steal the limelight from the real Campaign 2004 starring John Kerry, perhaps they should relax. In Chicago, Mr Clinton mostly refrained from comment on the presidential race. He did not bash George Bush once.

Did he mention Monica Lewinsky? He did not. But if it is not in the book, readers will surely be disappointed.

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