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The Night Dinner Was Late

She served dinner like clockwork every evening, and nothing had ever changed her routine—until that book.

It must have been around 1960. I was about 10 years old and hungry, waiting impatiently for dinner. But my mother wasn’t cooking. She wasn’t even in the kitchen. She was in the living room reading Leon Uris’ new novel, Exodus, about the SS Exodus, a ship full of concentration camp survivors that tried to dock in Palestine in 1947, but was turned away by the British authorities.

I whined about dinner. When are we going to eat? After I finish my book, my mother said. Exodus was a hot best-seller and she’d waited months to get it from the library. I knew my mother was an avid reader, but this was the first time my life had ever been disrupted by her devotion to the printed word. I didn’t care how long she’d waited for the book or how much she anticipated reading it. I was 10 and hungry and demanded dinner. Tough luck, wait till I’m finished—and the more you bother me, the longer it’s going to take.

Eventually, she finished, closed the book, and got a late dinner on the table amid grumbling from my father, my three brothers, and me.

It was a fleeting moment, but for reasons I can’t explain, it stuck with me. My mother was totally devoted to our family. She served dinner like clockwork every evening, and nothing had ever changed her routine—until that book.

As a fourth or fifth grader, I’d read books for school and written book reports, and viewed the enterprise as a chore, something I had to endure before I could play. But a book had been so important to my mother that she’d blown off what I considered her most sacred duty. That could mean only one thing. Books were powerful, magical. That delayed dinner was the moment my relationship to reading changed. That was the moment I realized that books could be so engrossing that nothing else mattered. That was the moment I took my first step toward becoming a writer.

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