Laura Bush opens National Book Festival with passage on 9/11

Former First Lady Laura Bush launched the 10th annual National Book Festival on the National Mall on Saturday by reading a passage about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks from her new book.

Bush, a former librarian, pioneered the first National Book Festival with the Library of Congress in 2001 just three days before the attacks. And Librarian of Congress James Billington introduced Bush on Saturday as the “reader in chief of the United States of America.”

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With Secret Service agents lining the perimeter and the aisles of the large open-flapped tent, Bush received standing ovations from a crowd of more than 500 people as she entered and exited to read from her book “Spoken From the Heart,” released in May.

In the months before President George W. Bush’s administration came to a close, his wife said she began to get calls from publishers asking when she was going to write her memoirs.

“I realized there was in fact a lot I wanted to say,” she said. “Our years in Washington, the first decade of the new century were as consequential as almost any other time in our history. We lived through the most vicious attack on our homeland in the history of our nation.”

Reading from her book, Bush recalled the morning of September 11, 2001. She was headed to Capitol Hill to testify before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on early childhood development.

The planes struck the World Trade Center while she was en route and as she arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) greeted her. As the news footage of the smoking buildings shone on the television in his office, Kennedy gave Bush a tour of the workplace he had inhabited for years, she said.

“My skin was starting to crawl,” Bush read. “I wanted to leave to find out what was going on, to process what I was seeing. But I felt trapped in an endless cycle of pleasantries. It did not occur to me to say, ‘Senator Kennedy, what about the towers?’ I simply followed his lead.”

“And he may have feared that if we actually began to contemplate what had happened in New York I might dissolve into tears.”

After the third plane hit the Pentagon, Bush was whisked to the Secret Service’s headquarters where she would stay until reuniting with President Bush in Washington D.C. later that evening.

Bush also spoke of meeting female political candidates in Kuwait, women who had their fingernails pulled out by the Taliban in Afghanistan for wearing nail polish, and heroic aid workers in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

“In my book I wanted to give voice to all of these remarkable people,” she said.

Bush said she’s reading the novel “Cutting for Stone” by Abraham Verghese released last year, and that she just finished reading “My Name is Mary Sutter,” a work of historical fiction by Robin Oliveira.

She said President George W. Bush is reading “Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy” by Eric Metaxas, a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor who was a leader in the German Resistance movement against the Nazis.